When Gary Harris took the floor for his first Big Ten game at Breslin Center, he prepared to square off against his home state school and mother’s alma mater for the first time.
It’s been a tough month for the freshman guard and Fishers, Ind., native, as he spent extra time working to regain his shooting touch after spraining his shoulder earlier in the season.
The results of Harris’ labor were on full display Saturday, as the No. 18 MSU men’s basketball team (12-3 overall, 1-1 Big Ten) blew out Purdue (7-7, 1-1) 84-61, behind a career-high 22 points and six 3-pointers from Harris.
Harris said the support of his teammates has helped him stay confident.
“Everyone’s been sticking with me,” Harris said. “They just say, ‘keep shooting the ball, keep shooting it, being aggressive.’ So I’ve got my teammates support and we’re all out there, so it makes it real easy.”
Sophomore guard Travis Trice, who assisted on one of Harris’ 3-pointers, said the freshman’s outside shooting opens the floor for everyone else.
And although he hasn’t been through a shoulder injury similar to Harris’, Trice said he understands the mental hurdles the injury could create.
“That’s got to be scary dealing with your shoulder,” Trice said. “Every time you shoot, I imagine he’s thinking when he goes up for a shot, ‘is it going to hurt?’ and that effects your shooting. But I think now he’s doing real well, where it seems like he’s not hesitating, he’s not favoring it, he’s just playing.
Now that Harris is rounding into form, head coach Tom Izzo said he’s pushing his guard to start becoming more aggressive offensively.
The aggressiveness Izzo said he’s hoping for from Harris is both in looking for his shot more frequently along with attacking at a faster pace offensively. Izzo said he’s even sought out Harris’ parents to help with the message.
“I told him at halftime, he had zero rebounds,” Izzo said. “(Former guard) Charlie Bell (was) in the locker room. I said tell Charlie he better talk to him. It’s almost illegal, you’ll go to jail if you’re a guard here and you have zero rebounds.”
Still, Izzo made sure to say he doesn’t have a single doubt about Harris’ toughness, an injury, he believes, “a less tough kid” would not have been able to play through.
Ultimately, he believes the injury, and Harris’ response to it, are all part of a learning process that will help Harris complete a special career.
“Remember, when he missed those games, he really missed three, and then he came back and he wasn’t the same for a while and still does have an issue there, but he’s playing through it,” Izzo said.
“He’s been shooting better in practice and he sure has been working on it; it’s not a lack of work. But Gary Harris will be a hell of a player.”