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From small town to Chinese metropolis: Harris living a dream for USA
SHENZHEN (China) - The bustling, high tech metropolis Shenzhen in southeastern China couldn't be any more different than the small town of Chelan, Washington in the United States. But the common link between these two stark opposites has been Joe Harris, who is using the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 to show the world that he's a serious all-around player well on the rise in the game.
Harris came to the World Cup perhaps most known for beating the likes of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson to win the 2019 NBA Three-Point Contest at the All-Star Weekend. But the 28-year-old is anything but just a shooter.
"He can play," Harris' USA teammate Harrison Barnes said. "A lot of guys, they look at players and say what is he: is he this or that. Yes, Joe can shoot the ball at an extremely high rate with probably anyone in the world. But he can play. He can make moves off the ball, he can set good screens, he can defend intelligently off the ball. Things like that to help our team."
Barnes knows Harris well. Before going against him in the NBA since 2014, Barnes battled Harris for two seasons in the famed Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) of the NCAA, Barnes for North Carolina and Harris with Virginia.
"It doesn't surprise me the level that he's at now. He's extremely consistent in his work ethic. Very smart guy, very hard working guy, so just to see him continually get better and better and continue to see him go from the training camp to starting now and continuing to improve, I think he's been great for our team," Barnes said.
Harris has been a model of consistency and efficiency for Gregg Popovich's team. Through five games, he is averaging 8.2 points while connecting on nearly 56 percent of his 5.4 shots per game including a blistering 56 percent on three-pointers. Harris also has collected 4.8 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 0.6 steals while committing only four turnovers total in 105 minutes on the court - something you could expect from a coach's son.
Harris does a bit of everything, but he does it all well
Nestled at the base of the Cascade Mountains and on Lake Chelan in central Washington, Harris' home town Chelan has a population of about 4,000 - three-times less than the crowd which came out to the Shenzhen Bay Sports Centre to watch Harris and USA face Greece at the World Cup. A local television report in 2014 talked about Chelan getting a second stoplight in the city with the picturesque surrounding nature. The tranquil environment in the western USA is so far from the seemingly endless number of high-rise buildings and skyscrapers in Shenzhen and its 12.5 million people.
"It's a very surreal experience," said Harris, who played for his father as coach in high school. "It's one of the things as a kid you dream about doing: representing USA. It's very special to represent your country, playing with such great players and great coaches."
While international fans might not know Harris that well, him representing USA at a World Cup should not be a huge shock. He may have come from a small town in central Washington, but he was named as the best player in the state in 2010 playing for the Chelan Mountain Goats. And that in a state that includes the basketball hotbed Seattle.
"IT'S A VERY SURREAL EXPERIENCE. IT'S ONE OF THE THINGS AS A KID YOU DREAM ABOUT DOING: REPRESENTING USA.
Harris moved to the east coast of the United States to attend the University of Virginia and was a major part of that team's turnaround with Tony Bennett as coach, reaching the NCAA tournament in 2012 for the first time in five years and getting to the Sweet Sixteen in his final year there in 2014 - with the program winning the NCAA title this past season.
Harris was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2014 but did not see much playing time after LeBron James returned to the team from the Miami Heat and Kevin Love was brought in. The 2015-16 season was wiped out by foot surgery and Cleveland shipped him out of town to Orlando who immediately waived him.
Harris finally got his chance in 2016 as the Brooklyn Nets signed him and he averaged 8.2 points while hitting 38.5 percent of his threes. Those numbers jumped to 10.8 points and 41.9 percent in 2017-18 and last season he had by far his best year at 13.7 points and a league-leading 47.4 percent on threes.
That campaign earned him a chance to make his USA debut, and the Second Round game against Brazil gave Harris a chance to meet up with Anderson Varejao, his teammate his rookie season with Cleveland.
From Cleveland to Shenzhen
"He was really good to me when I was a rookie in Cleveland, and I have remained close with him," said Harris, who even saw Varejao in Rio de Janeiro a couple years ago in the off-season.
"I'm really happy for Joe Harris. He works extremely hard. He's a great guy. I had the pleasure to mentor him in Cleveland. He's a great person. I love him and I am very happy for him for what he has been doing in the NBA and now being on the USA national team," said Varejao, who picked up 14 points, 8 rebounds and 3 assists in the game to 8 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist and the victory for Harris.
The USA shooting guard still might have one more meeting with a former good friend from his Cleveland days. If the Americans get past France in the Quarter-Finals and then either Argentina or Serbia in the Semi-Finals to reach the Final, they could possibly face off against Australia and former Cavs guard Matthew Dellavedova.
Harris facing good buddy Dellavedova would mean both USA and Australia reached the Final
"Delly is a great buddy of mine. That's what's really cool is to come over here and play on an international stage against former teammates," said Harris, who was even in Dellavedova's wedding. "We're all tight with the guys who played in the NBA. But it's always fun to have the opportunity to compete against them while you're representing your country."
Especially when it's as a small town guy in a metropolis on the other side of the world in China.