Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl says it's not a question of whether freshman power forward Tobias Harris will leave school early for the NBA draft. It's a question of when.
Naturally, Pearl is hoping to have Harris for more than one season, but when the NBA beckons, most players leave. We saw that with Kentucky last spring when it lost five players to the draft, including backup big man Daniel Orton, as well as starters John Wall, who went No. 1 overall, DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe and Patrick Patterson.
Cousins certainly was far from a polished product at center and could have benefitted from more college experience, but since athletic centers are so hard to come by, there was a spot waiting for him in the NBA as soon as he was eligible for the draft. It could be the same kind of situation for Harris, the 6-8, 226-pound former star at Half Hollow Hills West high school.
Harris wisely is deflecting all consideration of the NBA for now, politely answering that he's focused on helping Tennessee win a national title. But in a way, his personal maturity, as well as a game that is more polished than Cousins' and a set of basketball smarts that is much further advanced likely will make Harris extremely attractive to the NBA in the very near future.
Without strictly addressing his own situation, Harris was asked on the eve of tonight's Madison Square Garden debut against VCU for his view on players who leave school early for the NBA. "It depends on the player," Harris said. "If they have that opportunity, it's an amazing opportunity that you probably wouldn't want to give up. All you can do is say 'congrats' to them, and hopefully, they continue to work hard as they make the NBA."
Pearl and college basketball fans should enjoy watching Harris' develop this season because it's just reality that the ultimate goal is the NBA, and the only reason for a player of Harris' caliber to wait is if he's not going to be a lottery pick. We'll see in June if there are 14 college players in the country better than Dix Hills' Tobias Harris.