By Joe Henricksen
Playing in the far western suburbs in the Southwest Prairie Conference can have its disadvantages. Just ask Oswego East’s Jay Harris.
So while the Chicago media praises the exploits of the Jereme Richmonds and Wayne Blackshears of the prep basketball world and the local media in the far western suburbs gets hung up on East Aurora’s Ryan Boatright and Neuqua Valley’s Dwayne Evans, all Harris has done is light up the scoreboard and evolved into the high school version of Monta Ellis.
There was the 32 points he scored on Boatright and East Aurora in an 83-78 win and the 35 spot he put on Peoria Central in December. He hung 47 on Plainfield North and 36 more against Willowbrook in the last couple of weeks. And this past Friday night he was 10-of-11 from the field (often against a box-and-one defense) for 27 points in a huge conference win over rival Oswego, which vaulted his Wolves to 15-4 overall and into a tie for first place in the Southwest Prairie. For a kid who had to have people call him Jay because everyone was spelling his given name — Jordon — incorrectly all the time in the papers and internet, he’s doing just fine now in making a name for himself. The problem is few people have gotten out to watch Harris.
Harris, a 6-1 combo guard, has been one of the most electrifying scorers in the state after averaging just under 18 points a game as a junior. The senior guard is averaging 28 points a game while attracting more and more interest from college programs. While schools like Ball State and Valparaiso may have a leg up on Harris due to being in on him hard and early and extending offers, the word has spread and the interest has skyrocketed. Wichita State, New Mexico State and Creighton have shown interest, while several others have and will be steadily climbing into the picture with sudden interest.
“Those five schools have definitely shown the most interest,” says Harris of the aforementioned Division I schools, “with Ball State and Valpo being right there at the top.”
Harris, though, still says he’s figuring it all out and is just glad the doors have been opened. Those doors have swung open wide as the smooth, slender scoring guard is one of — if not the — top uncommitted prospect in the state, along with Julian guard Walter Lemon and the Hyde Park duo of Phillip Jackson and Fabyon Harris.
Harris just seems a whole lot more comfortable, at ease and dominating with his high school team than he did during the AAU season. The interest from colleges following the summer was mild and the November signing period passed, but there was no panic for Harris. And that has carried over into the season. He’s not forcing things — remember, he took just 11 shots against Oswego and just one attempt the entire first quarter — while still getting his points in the end.
“I’ve calmed down and I’ve let the game come to me,” says Harris of a change in his game. “Plus, playing in front of crowds like this [against Oswego] is a lot different than playing AAU where no one is watching. This feels really good right now. The notoriety I am starting to get is great. This is my senior year and I want it to be special, and right now we’re winning and with this win we’re tied for first.”
Things are certainly coming together for Harris, who also has improved his academic standing in the classroom. The Hoops Report has projected Harris as a really nice fit at the mid-major level, a no-brainer when it comes to playing in a league like the Mid-American Conference or Horizon League, where he could really flourish.
Harris, who is among the top 20 prospects in the senior class, is at his best by putting the ball in the hole with a quick and consistent jumper, particularly off the dribble, that doesn’t need much space to get it off. He is one of the best shooters in the state, regardless of class. Whether he’s shooting from 20-23 feet or his developed mid-range, pull-up game, his shot and release are soft. Opposing teams are completely focusing on him defensively — rotating different players at him, playing gimmick defenses — so he’s under pressure most of the time and still finds a way to hit shots virtually every game. With his perimeter shot and creativity off the dribble, he puts a lot of pressure on the defense with his offensive abilities. Although he lacks natural body strength and will always be on the thin side, he still will need to find a way to pack on some strength.
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