Fitness adds new edge to Harris' game

Tobias Harris will gladly tell you that he has visited Maryland, Georgia Tech, West Virginia, Syracuse, Tennessee, Louisville and Kentucky, and that he'll announce a choice by Thursday.

That is, if you can pin down the No. 7-ranked prep player in the ESPNU 100, one of the most intriguing un-committed players still out there. It is no easier tracking down the No. 3-ranked power forward than it is predicting where the 6-foot-8½ senior from Half Hollow Hills West (N.Y.) High will land.

He may be the No. 1 workout king in the country, morning, afternoon, and night -- six days a week. Mix in school, games and … good luck tracking him by phone.

"We go to work on speed and agility training from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and on Tuesdays and Thursdays we do plyometrics and weight training," said Harris' father, Torrel Harris. "Then, from 8-10 we go to the gym for basketball skills training with all my boys. Sundays off; we give thanks to the Lord."

Those skills sessions ought to be something to watch.

You have Torrel Harris, who played at Duquesne and Murray State in the late 1970s and early '80s, Tobias, his brothers Tyler, 16, and Terry, 13, "and usually three high school teammates," Tobias said. "We work on shooting, passing, hook shots, moves off the bounce, one-on-one, attacking the front foot, creating space … that kind of stuff."

Incentive has come from older sister Tesia, a junior at the University of Delaware.

"She really raised the bar for her brothers because she's so good," Torrel said. "It was like, 'My sister's going to be good; well, I've got to be better.' She's so good she'll be a pro one day."

There were other triggers driving Harris to redefine himself.

Even though he was entrenched on recruiting radars as a sophomore, there were some loopholes in scouting reports. An ESPNU evaluation of him two years ago, in November 2007, was mostly complimentary, with comments like, "good shooter … excellent basketball IQ and is a winner."

Yet there were a few yellow flags:

"He is a little soft … not very athletic which limits his off-the-dribble game along with making him a below-average defender … Tobias is a top 150 player in the 2010 class right now," the same evaluation said.

One recruiting analyst offered praise for Harris' skills, and then remarked that he was, "Bambi physically."

That was not the same guy now ranked No. 7 in much more than name.

Thanks in great measure to work done with speed, strength and agility coach Britton Kelley, Harris led Long Island Lutheran High to a New York state Class A championship last season (he's since transferred back to Half Hollow Hills West).

He was a constant standout in AAU action over the summer, and made lasting impressions at the LeBron James Skills Academy and the NBA Players Association Top 100 camp because he was so … different.

"He always had the skill and the basketball IQ, but this was the component that was missing," said ESPNU national recruiting director Paul Biancardi. "You could tell [before] that he played basketball, but he didn't make a commitment to the body. Now, he's gotten into tremendous habits and this has shot him up into the top 10 as far as players in [the class of] 2010. He looks great.

"When he shaped his body up, he enabled himself to run the floor better, jump quicker, be quicker with the ball … everything improves when your conditioning goes up, your body fat goes down, and you get stronger."

Harris, who averaged 25 points and 12 rebounds as a junior at Long Island Lutheran, plays like a new young man.

He's benefited from working over the years with several high-profile students of the game, including cousin Channing Frye of the Phoenix Suns, and even NBA Hall of Famer George Gervin, who was represented by his father when Torrel was an NBA player agent.

"I'm a lot more explosive, and quicker, I have more conditioning," Harris said. "We do a lot more explosion stuff, we work on the core, the hips, hip flexors, trying to get mobile. I wasn't able to move as good as I am now. My hip mobility is opening up.

"We do lot of springs, squats, box jumps, a lot of explosion drills. We do sled pulls, and a lot of other machines."

When school was out of session, Harris usually woke up at about 5:30 a.m. to run a mile or two. Now, he runs on the school track during eighth period, and typically shoots with an assistant in ninth period before practice from roughly 2-5 p.m.

His schedule changes some on game days, but this young man stays busy, usually lifting weights on those days. He and his father praise Kelley for helping him redevelop. Something is inherent, here, however.

"I look at players like Kobe Bryant and his work ethic, and I always look on YouTube for NBA players' workouts," Tobias said. "I like Gilbert Arenas because he worked real hard."

Harris said that in his search for a school, he's looking into, "any kind of business school," with an eye toward entrepreneurship (his father runs a sports apparel company).

"I'm also looking at the guys on team, style of play and academics," he said.

That's when he's not squeezing in a workout as he continues to prepare for the possibility that in college he could play small forward, depending on where he goes to school.

"We wanted to work on his speed and agility," his father said. "It's made him quicker and leaner. He hasn't lost a lot of weight. I would say he toned up, cut body fat. He was about 220 [pounds]. He's probably five pounds lighter.

"He wants to be great, and realizes that God gave him talent. He realizes that it's going to take hard work to reach his goal, and he trains like it. You only have to tell him once."

Matt Winkeljohn left the Atlanta Journal-Constitution after spending 21 years there. He can be reached at mattwinkeljohn@yahoo.com.