Denver Stiffs had the good fortune to grab time to chat with the Denver Nuggets starting shooting guard, Gary Harris. Gary was kind enough to let us get to know him a little better, ask about his game, where he came from, and how he came by that dialed-in defense.
Denver Stiffs (DS): You're from Fishers, one of the more idyllic spots in Indiana, the heart of basketball Mecca. What's it like to come from a place where basketball is so revered, and make it all the way to being a starter in the pros?
Gary Harris (GH): It's a big deal growing up in Indiana, because it's a basketball state where people live and breathe the game. It helps from a young age because it's so competitive with a high-level talent pool all over the state, which makes all the players better. To have that pay off, not only for myself, but for a lot of other players I knew growing up in Indiana is very rewarding, and a dream come true.
DS: Wow, so in a way, it makes it a part of your DNA from early on. Speaking of DNA, your mom was also quite a basketball player, with accolades galore, and time as a pro. How much did she contribute to your getting into the sport?
GH: She was a very big part of it. When I was younger she was still playing, and so I was always in and around gyms, always able to learn and practice. After that, she coached, so I was always engaged at a young age, always had a ball in my hands, with a lot of time to learn in those spaces. I was just always around the game.
DS: So she showed you the ropes... When did you two finally stop playing against each other?
GH: We played a little bit when I was younger, but you know, once I started getting older, and a little better we kind of just stopped playing... (laughs)... She definitely tried to beat up on me a little bit when I was younger.
DS: She sounds like she's got a great personality that way, as a mom and teacher.
GH: Oh, yeah, That's for sure!
DS: What about your dad? How did he influence you?
GH: He's always been really supportive, and has always been someone pushing me to work really hard at everything I do, and to help me stay focused. With him, to be able to bounce things off of him has been a huge support. He's really helpful to me.
DS: How nice, your parents are the yin and yang of the family for you.
GH: Oh yeah, that's for sure.
DS: You came out of the gates pretty hot in high school, averaging 14 points, four rebounds, two assists, and three steals per game as a sophomore, and every year you only improved from there. Your Michigan State career garners a Big Ten Freshman of the Year award, followed by a stellar sophomore campaign. All of which must have made a tumultuous rookie year - for you and the Nuggets - a tough pill to swallow. How did you handle that difficulty, and how satisfying has it been to have such a huge leap forward in your second year as a pro?
GH: It was different, for sure, and difficult. Growing up, I came in getting a lot of minutes on the floor. Coming into the NBA, on most teams rookies don't play a lot and that's an adjustment. At times, you get to pressing too much when you do play as you want to be out there as much as possible. I tried to stay very level headed and keep working, so I'd be ready when my opportunities did come.
All the hard work did pay off when my time finally came, and I'm working hard to make that even better this year, enjoy the moment, and make the most of it so I can continue to improve.
You can't always control your offense, how many shots you get or make... but you can always control what you do on defense.
DS: You came into the league as a player whose defensive skills were described as "NBA ready". What first inspired you to work at your "D", and where do you still see opportunities to improve on the defensive side of the ball?
GH: Oh wow, there's always things to improve on. I wouldn't say I'm the best defender ever, so I can always improve. I just need to keep studying, watching film, working hard, and continuing to get better and keep improving where I can.
Defense was something that came to me at a young age, because it's the one part of the game you can always control. You get from what you give on the defensive end. You can't always control your offense, how many shots you get or make... but you can always control what you do on defense.
DS: You play on one of the youngest teams in the league (by average age), and start alongside two rookies. With a story that's barely starting to be written, what do you see for the future of the team?
GH: The potential is huge. Our chemistry is growing, and we're all learning a lot, which is happening pretty fast, because we're out there together every night playing big minutes against some of the most experienced teams in the league, especially in the Western Conference I see that we're all getting better, our confidence is growing, and we will just continue to get better on and off the court.
Here's one of Harris' many solid games this season, against the Los Angeles Lakers:
DS: Who are you closest with on the team?
GH: It sounds like the easy answer, but I feel like we're all pretty close on the team right now. The chemistry is great, especially between us young guys continuing to figure these games out together, and getting to know each other on and off the court. The relationships are still just growing every day.
DS: It seems like the veterans and Coach Malone and his staff have really fostered that closeness amongst you all since the beginning of the season.
GH: Very much so. Those vets and the coaches understood that need from early in the season. They definitely carried it over through the year.
DS: What are your interests outside of the sport?
GH: I'm a pretty laid-back guy, so during the season I'll usually just go home, watch some TV, movies, play some video games, just relax and decompress. We play every other day, so it's just finding the down time and making the most of it.
After a little break of some sort, I get back into it and work on my game. It's where I'm most comfortable, so I just have to stay in the gym.
DS: What about the offseason?
GH: With the longer time off, I take a little more time to get away, but I miss it (playing basketball), and you have to stay on top of it. After a little break of some sort, I get back into it and work on my game. It's where I'm most comfortable, so I just have to stay in the gym.
DS: Who have you learned the most from on the team in these two seasons?
GH: It's not been one person in particular, but the entire staff has done a great job helping us out. And not just me, but all the team, especially the young guys in helping us develop a routine, and figuring out ways we can best impact the game. In a great way, they are always in our ears.
DS: Not much of the season left to go... where would you most like to see the team improve by season's end?
GH: We want to finish out strong. There's only 11 games left (Olson note: 11 as of this interview), and finishing out strong will give us some opportunity to carry some momentum over into next year. But instead of seeing us improve in any certain aspect, I'd like to see us continue improving across the board.
DS: There's a bunch of Nuggets fans that drop by the site. Any last words for Nuggets Nation?
GH: More than anything, thanks for the continued support. Hang in there, because a lot more good things are coming their way.
*** Many thanks to the Denver Nuggets and Gary Harris for taking the time to share a few moments with Denver Stiffs and Nuggets Nation, and to Tim Gelt for so generously setting this up! ***