By Zach Braziller
Google Maurice Harkless and the first result is his rivals.com profile. It’s followed by various stories about his summer with the New York Panthers, his decision to decommit from the University of Connecticut, where he may end up, and his profile by scout.com.
An assessment of his performance at the Boo Williams tournament in April is difficult to find — but not for Harkless, who vividly remembers the article and can tell you exactly where it is. In the story, Harkless was criticized for his uninspiring play.
“It was motivation,” said the 6-foot-7 wing with a feathery jump shot and spellbinding leaping ability. “It made me want to show people that’s not the type of player I am.”
It, however, was the impetus for his breakout July, a month when the former Forest Hills star established himself, several college coaches said, as an elite high-major prospect. He consistently hit three-pointers and finished in the paint against bigger and stronger opponents, but most importantly showed a motor that some had doubted existed.
“I showed people I do play hard,” he said.
Harkless was named MVP of the Hoop Group Elite Camp at Albright College in Pennsylvania, led the Panthers to the semifinals at the Fab 48 event in Las Vegas, and guided them to the Desert Duel (Phoenix, Ariz.) crown while also earning MVP honors. He was chosen over such national prospects as Tony Wroten and Quinn Cook.
“He proved he’s one of the top 20 or 30 prospects in the country as far as talent is concerned,” one Division I assistant coach involved in his recruiting said.
Before July, Harkless, the 19th-ranked small forward in the class of 2011 by scout.com, was already a hot commodity. That only intensified as the month wore on — he played in front of head coaches such as Bill Self (Kansas), Steve Lavin (St. John’s), Mike Rice (Rutgers), Roy Williams (North Carolina), Gary Williams (Maryland) and Billy Donovan (Florida).
His adviser, Nate Blue, said he has 19 scholarship offers. Florida, St. John’s, Rutgers, Arizona, Cincinnati, Maryland and Memphis are among his many suitors. Kansas and Syracuse have also shown interest, although neither has offered Harkless, who plans to trim his list to between six to eight teams in the next week. He said St. John’s and UConn would “most likely” be in that group.
“Playing at a high level consistently is what helped him,” Blue said. “The important thing of July was for him to play hard, not take possessions off, to do what he was told.”
Blue later added: “I knew he was one of the best players in the nation, he just had to show everybody else. I’d be surprised if he’s not a McDonald’s All-American.”
The assistant coach said Harkless showed an ability to finish above the rim consistently, which he previously had failed to do. “I can’t tell you how many dunks he had in traffic,” the coach said.
Another Division I assistant coach, also speaking on condition of anonymity, compared him to Rudy Gay, the former UConn star who recently signed a multi-year contract with the Memphis Grizzles, with a better jump shot, but less athleticism. Blue has made the comparison to Tracy McGrady.
“He would be an all-rookie player in the Big East,” said the second assistant, who felt Harkless should put on weight before entering college. “Do I think he can lead a team to a national championship? No. But he will be a great piece to somebody’s puzzle.”
While the Panthers lost their opener in New Heights’ NYC Summer Classic at Fordham University on Saturday, every high-major coach made sure to catch a glimpse of Harkless. Clearly, the buzz surrounding him has intensified. To Harkless, that began with an unflattering article after Boo Williams.
“There were a lot of people that doubted me and a lot of people that still do,” he said. “I want to prove everybody wrong.”