Torrel Harris received a telephone call from his 18-year-old son Tobias Friday morning, a call both had dreamed about for as long as they could remember. Recalling the conversation for Newsday, Torrel said, "Tobias called me and said, 'Dad, I want to keep my name in the NBA draft. I'm ready for the draft.'"
After extensive research and conversations with 10 NBA teams, including seven that have lottery picks, father and son were confident it was the right decision. Tobias was Tennessee's second-leading scorer (15.3) and rebounder (7.3) as a freshman, and he displayed a good shooting touch (.460 from the field) and exceptional maturity and knowledge of the game. At 6-8, 226 pounds, he also has an NBA body with the potential to get stronger and the versatility to play both forward positions and the ballhandling to eventually play shooting guard if necessary.
Although Volunteers coach Bruce Pearl was fired and replaced by Cuonzo Martin, Tobias said the coaching change had no impact on his decision. It wouldn't have hurt his stock to return to college for another season to prolong the student-athlete experience, but he was anxious to jump-start his pro career.
Reflecting on his freshman season, Harris said, "I thought I did a good job controlling myself and doing the right thing on and off the court. I tried to grow as a person and really found out who I am. I learned so much, and the relationships will last forever."
But all indications the Harris family received from NBA scouts, coaches and general managers are that Tobias has a strong chance to be a lottery pick and certainly will be chosen in the top 20 picks of the NBA draft. Torrel once represented Hall of Famer George Gervin, who told Tobias, "You're going to be a Hall of Famer one day." Former NBA star John Lucas also worked with the young Harris and told him he can be an All-Star, a comment that was echoed by at least one current NBA coach who worked him out.
"We spoke to a number of teams, mostly teams we felt fit Tobias' style," Torrel Harris said. "They all loved Tobias and thought he was a great player. They all had high regard for him. Tobias came away feeling it was time to turn pro."
Asked if any teams indicated they would draft Harris, his father said, "Some teams did indicate Tobias would be a strong candidate they would like to draft, but they don't know the position of the draft board [until the NBA lottery establishes the order of selection]. Some teams in the 15-20 range said there is a very strong chance they would take him if he's available, but they said they don't think he will be available after No. 15."
Once they heard that assessment, Torrell and Tobias Harris understood how close they are to fulfilling a lifelong dream. Just a year ago at this time, Tobias was graduating from Half Hollow Hills West high school in Dix Hills. Now, he's graduating early to the NBA.
"It doesn't matter to me where I play," Harris said. "Whatever team picks me, I'll be glad to play for them."