It might have been so simple as a facial features. It might need been verbalized. It’s arduous to say, contemplating the stress of the second, and likewise what number of instances it occurred final season, whether or not at Indiana March 2 with the sport tied at 63 and just some seconds remaining Ron Harper Jr. explicitly instructed his coach, Steve Pikiell, to “give me the ball” within the closing timeout huddle. Harper had lengthy since change into a vocal chief in timeouts, and so he might have stated it, however it additionally would possibly merely have been an understanding, the default, the manifestly apparent factor to do.
“You will have a child taking part in in entrance of 18,000 at Indiana, each seat is full, on the most important phases, any sport we wanted to go to the NCAA Match,” Pikiell stated. “And also you’re in these huddles, and also you simply know what it’s: ‘Give me the ball.'”
That is the legend of Ron Harper Jr. In his 4 years at RutgersHarper – the son of a former five-time NBA champion – morphed from a little-regarded three-star prospect right into a Massive Ten star and late-game killer, all whereas elevating a moribund program to its first NCAA Tournaments in practically 4 many years. When the Toronto Raptors gave him a two-way deal after Harper went undrafted, they landed one of many extra fascinating collegiate growth success tales of the previous 4 seasons, to not point out a doubtlessly very fascinating NBA piece.
It’s arduous to overstate simply how historically nonexistent Rutgers males’s basketball was earlier than Harper Jr. arrived. Pikiell’s third yr was Harper’s freshman season. Pikiell took a minor danger on Harper, who did not have many high-major provides, which is the type of factor you need to do at a program that hasn’t been to the NCAA Match in 38 years. It turned readily obvious immediately that Harper had been a late-developing steal, and it was Harper’s class (with Myles Johnson and Montez Mathis) that elevated Rutgers from one hundred and thirtieth within the KenPom.com adjusted effectivity rankings in 2017-18 to 78th the next season after which twenty eighth the yr after that. The Rutgers would have simply damaged its match drought in 2020 had the occasion not been canceled, however the Scarlet Knights bounced again the next season (and received a sport within the match) anyway.
“I bear in mind when he got here right here, everybody within the metropolitan New York space stated he couldn’t play at this degree,” Pikiell stated. “As he acquired higher, our program acquired higher. He got here to a college that was not horny in any respect. He made it horny. ”
Harper sealed his icon standing in Piscataway not simply by constructing this system or returning for his true senior season, however in main Rutgers – generally singlehandedly – again from its disastrous begin to the 2021-22 marketing campaign. Pikiell’s crew misplaced to DePaul, Lafayette (rank: 323rd) and UMass in 9 days in November, the form of stretch that may finish your hopes of a match bid early. However on Dec. 9, at house towards PurdueHarper made one of many photographs of the season, a half-court heave to upset the loaded No. 1 Boilermakers.
That shot, like different buzzer-beaters Harper hit down the stretch of the season, garnered a lot of the consideration, and understandably so. However Harper was unguardable in the complete second half. He made each prior massive shot to maintain his crew in that sport within the first place. This could change into a theme of the yr. Harper’s sport developed to the purpose that he can now rating successfully in any respect three ranges, and opposing defenses reliably struggled along with his matchup, significantly when Harper acquired his strikes and counters going late. Enjoying a guard towards him would get you buried deep behind his, ahem, width within the put up; matching up with an enormous man would get you dragged uncomfortably away from the rim. Harper shot 40 % from 3, and took 44 % of his discipline targets from behind the arc. He didn’t overdo it with the midrange stuff both, trying simply 22.7 % of his discipline targets as two-point soar photographs, per Hoop-Math.com.
Alongside the event of his ability package deal, Harper provides distinctive physicality. He stands just below 6-foot-6 in sneakers, which isn’t historically perfect, however his power and sheer density means he does not get moved on the low block, and he usually switched between guards on the perimeter and the Massive Ten’s limitless provide of conventional facilities. He has a 7-foot-1 wingspan. He offers off a little bit of the PJ Tucker / Grant Williams vibes; you might see him as a participant who makes up for his lack of peak with power and perimeter versatility, and he can deal with the ball and play a little bit of guard higher than both of the aforementioned. And there’s a lot bodily potential but to unlock – which can be part of the danger of the decide. Harper arrived on the mix with 14.5 % physique fats. He has all the time carried a little bit of timber. Can Harper he refine his physique, and get his ft quick sufficient, to make all of his strengths work collectively on the NBA degree?
Harper has an extended historical past of regular growth, from his 4 years in highschool to the 4 years that made him a cult hero in faculty. “His greatest basketball may be very a lot forward of him,” Pikiell stated. “Anyone’s going to take him, and in a number of years you are going to say: ‘Wow – what an ideal decide.'”
(Photograph: Trevor Ruszkowski / USA At present)