Tobias Harris' father knows best about transition to NBA

Former Half Hollow Hills West basketball star Tobias

Former Half Hollow Hills West basketball star Tobias Harris and his father, Torrel, hold a cake designed like a Tennessee basketball jersey with Tobias' name on the back after he announced his intention to attend the University of Tennessee. (Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy, 2009)

PHILADELPHIA

Tobias Harris wakes up in a different place every morning these days. One day it's Washington, the next day it's Milwaukee, the next it's Philadelphia.

One thing, however, remains a constant for the Milwaukee small forward: No matter what hotel room in what town he wakes up in, one of the first voices he hears is that of his father, Torrel Harris.

"My dad watches every game, and then we talk about it the next day," the former Half Hollow Hills West and Long Island Lutheran standout said last week in an interview before the Bucks played the 76ers. "We talk every day on the phone about what I should have done here or there, what I can work on, different situations. My dad is my No. 1 fan. We're very close."

From the day Tobias first picked up a basketball, his father, a former sports agent and college player, has been intimately involved in his career. He's guided him through high school, through AAU ball, through a year at the University of Tennessee and through his rookie year in the NBA.

And now he's helping to guide his 20-year-old son through what could be his most critical season to date: His first as a NBA starter, playing a position in which he has to match up against some of the best players in the league on a nightly basis.

"Tobias is going up against guys like LeBron James and Kobe Bryant and Paul Pierce," Torrel said. "When you are a guy who is a future Hall of Famer and you're lining up against a young guy like Tobias, the first thing you think is 'I'm going to go at you.' "

This is something Tobias found out in his first game as a starter when he walked out on the court at TD Bank Garden in Boston. The Celtics' Pierce strolled over to where he was standing and asked him if he wanted that spot.

"When Tobias told him 'yes,' he said, 'You're not going to have it,' " Torrel said with a laugh. "He said, 'You're a rookie, I'm a veteran.' "

Harris was able to more than hold his own against Pierce, scoring 18 points to Pierce's 11. Heading into Saturday's game against the Hornets, Harris was averaging 8.3 points and shooting 63.2 percent, which is fairly impressive considering that coach Scott Skiles is platooning him with veteran Mike Dunleavy Jr. For the most part, Skiles has been using Harris in the first and third quarters and playing Dunleavy in the second and fourth.

It might look as though Skiles is easing Harris into a starting role, but he is by no means going easy on the player the Bucks acquired in a draft-day trade in 2011 after the Bobcats made him the 19th overall pick.

"We're not looking for a whole lot from him other than to learn the league and play like his hair is on fire," Skiles said with a hint of a laugh. "We don't have a crazy high bar."

Harris, however, said he entered this season feeling as though he had something to prove. It's not that he had a bad rookie season, but it wasn't the explosive one he had imagined.

He didn't get to go through much of a training camp because of the lockout that shortened the season. Then a serious bout of dehydration, which his father attributed to staying in an overheated hotel room, led to his being hospitalized before the beginning of the season.

That left Harris playing catch-up for much of the first part of the season. He played in 42 games, making nine starts, and averaged 5.0 points in 11.4 minutes a game.

During the summer before his second season, Harris vowed to get into the best shape of his life and work hard to sharpen his defensive skills. He stayed in Milwaukee for four days of the week, working with Skiles and his assistants. During the other three days, he returned to Long Island, where he worked out with his trainer, Britton Kelley, and his long-time coach, Jay Hernandez. He also spent a week working with Hall of Famer George Gervin, a family friend.

One thing that fuels Harris to do his best is that he is from Long Island. Though there have been Long Island players drafted since 2009 -- Harris, Danny Green and A.J. Price -- players from the Island don't get the same type of respect that city players do, Harris said.

"I think there's always more hype about the city players," Harris said. "We've had a lot of great players in the NBA from Long Island. I do like the fact, though, that people don't expect as much. It's more fuel to the fire. I'm going to prove everybody wrong. That's the way I'm looking at it."

Torrel Harris, who has always expected great things from his son, believes this is going to be a big year for him.

Said the father: "He definitely wants to prove himself because he wasn't satisfied with what he did his first year. Right now, he's focused and he's ready. The sky is really the limit for him."

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