When the Boost Mobile Elite 24 all-star basketball game was moved from the fabled outdoor court at Harlem's Rucker Park to the venerable Gauchos Park indoor gym in the Bronx because of Friday night's intermittent rain, it served as an apt metaphor for Tobias Harris' game.
The 6-8 senior, who transferred from Lutheran to Half Hollow Hills West, has risen to the nation's No. 7 overall recruit this summer, according to ESPNU, because he has developed an inside-outside game. A summer of premier camps and elite all-star games and an arduous fitness program that helped him drop inches from his waist and add inches to his vertical jump came to a fitting conclusion Friday night.
Harris, Newsday's 2009 high school player of the year, scored 20 points, shot 9-for-16, added five rebounds and was named one of the Skip to My Lou team's co-MVPs in a 133-120 victory over The Goat team in the annual Elite 24 game, which includes the top high school players in the country.
"I've expanded my game," Harris said in the steamy upstairs locker room of the ancient gym that is home to one of the city's top amateur programs. "I definitely feel stronger. I can take contact and finish."
Despite the limitations of the free-wheeling, one-on-one style of all-star games, Harris offered glimpses of why he is being courted by schools such as Syracuse, Connecticut, Kentucky, Tennessee and numerous others. He dunked repeatedly on the fast break, scored on a power move to the lane and sank a three-pointer in a game-high 22 minutes. "In an all-star game, you don't always get the ball as much as you like," said Harris, who admitted to some early frustration. "You have to take advantage when you do get the ball."
So Harris tried to score nearly every time he got a touch in a high-scoring contest that featured sparkling, quick-footed guard play and crowd-pleasing dunks. Co-MVP Doron Lamb of New York City scored 23 points for Skip to My Lou, the nickname of Rucker Park alum Rafer Alston. The co-MVPs for The Goat, the nickname of city playground legend Earl Manigault, were Josh Selby of Baltimore (18 points, including two spectacular dunks) and C.J. Leslie of North Carolina (15 points, 11 rebounds).
Harris' style is more efficient than flamboyant, and the on-court DJ/announcer Friday night kidded him about not smiling on the court. "He always had a really good skill set for a kid his size," said Tom Konchalski of Queens, the well-respected recruiting guru who sat in the top row of the bleachers at Gaucho Park as part of an overflow crowd of 1,800. "But he was Bambi out there. His body had to catch up to his game. He had a great summer, his body matured and he's gotten much stronger."
Konchalski, a candid observer, said Harris needed to become "an inside-outside player" in order to attain his elite status. "One knock on him was that he wanted to play too much on the perimeter," Konchalski said. "He shouldn't limit himself. He needs to use his size as a weapon more."
Harris did indeed flex some muscle Friday night. "It was a bonus getting the co-MVP," he said. "It's definitely a nice way to end the summer."