From North Jersey to Northwest D.C.
How hard work and being vocal define men's basketball player Jamir Harris
Two years ago, Jamir Harris was playing college basketball on the biggest stage imaginable. During the frigid Minneapolis winter, the North Jersey product would take the floor 28 times for the Minnesota Golden Gophers of the Big Ten. Every game, he would play in front of over 10,000 fans, and he would go up against names like Carsen Edwards, Kevin Huerter, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Duncan Robinson, all of whom are now NBA players.
Now a redshirt sophomore at American University, he will be going up against a different group of big names in the Patriot League. This time around, he’ll be playing home games in front of about 700 fans, and he’ll be worrying about names like Jordan Cohen, Rapolas Ivanauskas, Andrew Kostecka and Max Mahoney.
Sure, the names of the top players in the Patriot League might not stand out to the average college basketball fan, but this doesn’t bother him. The 6-foot-2 combo guard doesn’t care about names of players or the league he plays in; he just wants to work hard and see results.
“I just want to get on the court,” Harris said. “My mindset is the same [as it was in the Big Ten], I don’t feel that it’s a step down. I still have to work the hardest and have the same work ethic that I had there and prove myself.”
Harris’ head-down approach since his arrival in Tenleytown has not gone unnoticed, coach Mike Brennan confirmed.
“He works hard on a daily basis,” Brennan said. “Even though he’s only a sophomore, the guys look up to him and embrace him.”
Although Harris has always been known for his maturity, work ethic and vocal nature, these traits were heavily developed at The Patrick School, where the varsity basketball team was ranked as highly as seventh in the country during Harris’ career.
“We traveled a lot, played in a lot of big national events in front of lots of people. The spotlight was pretty much on us everywhere we went,” Harris said. “[The experience] teaches you how to stay humble, how to stay level headed and to take care of your business.”
By the time Harris was a junior at “St. Pat’s,” there was a new person who joined the coaching staff: former Rutgers coach Mike Rice.
Known nationally for being a passionate coach, Rice was fired as coach at Rutgers after video surfaced of him verbally and physically abusing his players.
Despite Rice’s hard-driving style, Harris has a strong relationship with the former Rutgers coach, and says he learned many important lessons while playing under him.
“He’s a great coach,” Harris said. “He made me realize that working hard is essential. That’s just something you have to do to be a great basketball player at any level.”
Rice’s attitude clearly rubbed off on Harris, as the coach described his former player as one of the “hardest workers” he has ever coached in a 2016 article on Zagsblog.
The combination of national exposure, hard work and two seasons under Rice transformed Harris into a highly sought after recruit, as he held offers from the likes of Minnesota, Stanford, Seton Hall, Alabama, Creighton, USC, Penn and Princeton.
Despite having set up a visit at Stanford for the next month, Harris committed to Minnesota during September of his senior year of high school.
“There was something about the atmosphere at Minnesota that made me believe I belonged there,” Harris said. “Going on my visit, playing with the guys, seeing the role I was gonna play, I thought it was the right fit.”
Although Harris started two games and had a 16-point outburst against Penn State during his freshman season in Minneapolis, he logged only 14.1 minutes per contest, and he was stuck playing behind a foursome of guards.
After the season, Harris contemplated his options, and decided it was the right time to transfer from Minnesota. He visited Penn and said that UConn was an option because Kimani Young, his assistant coach at Minnesota, was there. “We’re real close,” he said.
Despite having these options, Harris committed to American, and according to point guard Sa’eed Nelson, he was interested in coming to Tenleytown from the get-go.
Nelson said Harris reached out to him during the recruiting process. “He was all aboard with it,” Nelson said. “I told him that we could win it all.”
After becoming interested in AU, Harris visited the school, which sealed the deal, as he committed shortly thereafter.
“It was a bunch of things that factored in,” Harris said. “Playing pick-up with the guys, I fit right in … and I knew it would be a great honor to play with Sa’eed.”
Due to NCAA rules, Harris was forced to sit out last season after transferring from Minnesota, which gave him time to pursue interests away from the basketball court. In addition to spending countless hours in the gym working on his basketball skills, he began to write poetry and rap music.
Going by the stage name “JayReal,” Harris’ SoundCloud biography reads: “I rap about my grind, my passion, my determination and all those who tell me I can't. Ima believer and always will be....”
For Harris, rap music and poetry is a way to express himself, something that he does plenty of with his teammates.
“He’s vocal at all times, not hiding his emotions,” Nelson said. “If he has a problem, he’s gonna speak up and say it. Him being verbal is definitely gonna be a key factor to us winning this year.”
Now, he is ready to finally suit up for AU and make an immediate impact for an Eagles squad poised to compete for its first NCAA Tournament appearance since the 2013-2014 wraparound season.
Although Harris is expected to help the Eagles with 3-point shooting, his skillset is actually much more versatile.
“He’s an intense defender, vocal on defense … He’s a much better passer than I was anticipating,” Brennan said. “He’s just a really good player.”
Getting back on the court and contributing will be understandably emotional for Harris, as he has not appeared in a collegiate game in more than one year and eight months.
“It’s been a year and a half since I’ve played in a game,” Harris said. “My emotions are gonna be very very high. I’m gonna be very anxious. I’m hoping that I can release those emotions in the best way and perform.”