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SportsColumnistsGregg Sarra

Sarra: Hills West's Harris, superstar, puts team first

Half Hallows Hills West Colts forward Tobias Harris

Half Hallows Hills West Colts forward Tobias Harris (12) drives to the basket during the first half of the New York State South East Regional Class AA Final against the Uniondale Knights. (March 13, 2010) Photo Credit: Newsday/Christopher Pasatieri

Waves of fans made their way over to Tobias Harris and requested an autograph at courtside. He obliged them all. He signed more than a dozen mini-basketballs.

And this wasn't down time. This was 45 minutes before the biggest game of the season - the Long Island Class AA championship game against Uniondale last night at Hofstra University.

This is another side of Tobias Harris.

"Look at all these little kids coming to watch Long Island basketball," he said. "It's great. I look in the stands and they're packed and people are enjoying basketball."

They have Harris to thank. The Tennessee-bound superstar has Half Hollow Hills West on the verge of its first state boys basketball championship. He had 19 points, 11 rebounds and seven blocked shots as the Colts handed Uniondale a 63-50 loss at Hofstra's Mack Sports Complex. It was the Colts' first Long Island title.

On the court, Tobias is all business. He's all game face, no fooling around. But off the court, his magnetic personality has endeared him to his school and the Long Island basketball community.

Harris has packed gyms all over Long Island. They come to see the 6-9 forward with the deft shooting touch, impeccable handle and enthusiastic demeanor. Sometimes his flamboyance can be construed as arrogance.

"There are times that I'm so emotional on the court that I go over the top," he said, laughing. "You have to have an edge. I get so excited during games. But I think I was a little over the top against Longwood. They were real good and I was so pumped for that game."

Harris led the Colts to a stirring 77-69 win over a tough Longwood team to claim the Suffolk Class AA crown.

"He's an amazing talent and an incredible kid," Hills West coach Bill Mitaritonna said. "He's the most popular kid in school, and it's not because of basketball."

Spend a few minutes with Harris and you find out quickly how down to earth and charming he can be. He talks openly about his basketball odyssey from Hills West to Long Island Lutheran and back to Hills West for his final season.

"I learned a lot at Lutheran and it was a great experience winning the state title as a junior," he said. "I became a mentally tougher player at Lutheran. And I wanted to bring that style and experience back to my hometown and win a state crown here."

Harris is all about school spirit. He could be seen cheering on the sideline as the football team earned the Suffolk Division III title at Stony Brook University on its way to a Long Island championship in the fall. He attends and supports the girls at their games and is a big part of the Varsity Club in school.

"I love my school and our community," Harris said. "The football season was so much fun. I've seen the faces of the kids who lose in big games and I don't want that to be me. I want to win a state title."

There's been subtle changes in him over the years. The more mature Harris is a true leader in every sense. He distributes the ball, rebounds at both ends, scores from everywhere on the court and plays intimidating defense. He is more concerned with winning than personal achievement. Three times he drove the lane and dished to an open teammate last night for easy baskets.

"If you asked me as a sophomore if I'd rather score 50 points and lose rather than score two points and win," Harris said, "I would have wanted to score the 50. Now it's all about the winning."

Those days of worrying about stats and getting noticed are long over. Everyone knows about Tobias Harris. Just ask all those little autograph-seekers.


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