"I'm ready to put myself out there to get myself in the best position possible to be drafted," Harper said. "I'm going all-in."
Harper, a projected second-round pick, was named an Associated Press All-American honorable mention and second-team All-Big Ten selection after averaging 15.8 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.9 assists for the Scarlet Knights, who made consecutive NCAA tournament appearances for the first time since 1976 during his tenure.
Harper will go down as one of the best players in Rutgers history after helping turn around a program that finished in last place in its first three seasons in the Big Ten prior to his arrival but would have made three straight tournament appearances had the coronavirus pandemic not forced the cancellation of their season in March 2020. The NBA is again requiring college seniors to make themselves eligible for the NBA draft by formally declaring for the early-entry list in writing, as fourth-year players like Harper can return for a "super senior" fifth year if interested.
"The last few years at Rutgers were unbelievable," Harper said. "Nobody would imagine we'd be where we are today when I arrived. When I came on an unofficial recruiting visit, Coach (Steve) Pikiell said he wants to turn Rutgers back into a winning culture and get back to the NCAA tournament. Now, if you don't make the tournament, it's a failure. This has been a great journey with my teammates, coaching staff and our fans. We turned Jersey Mike's Arena into one of the toughest places to play in college basketball. It wasn't like that when I got here. That's a product of what we were able to accomplish since my freshman year."
Harper was not heavily recruited throughout much of his high school career at Don Bosco Prep in New Jersey. He played AAU for Ring City, a team founded by his mother, Maria, who played Division I college basketball at the University of New Orleans and is now an assistant coach at Don Bosco, and father, Ron Harper Sr.
"I feel like this is kind of crazy to see how far I've come," Harper Jr. said. "It's been a long, hard journey. Nothing easy about it. No handouts. Nothing given."
Harper said he struggled early in his career with the pressure of being compared to his father, a five-time NBA champion with the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers. Known as a prolific scorer early in his NBA career, Harper Sr. transitioned into a lockdown defender and instrumental part of Phil Jackson's triangle offense with his experience and passing savvy.
"It was hard at first. I struggled with carrying my dad's name and being compared to him in every way," Harper Jr. said. "I've learned how to do deal with it, accept what that comes with and be grateful. He has a lot of great advice and things he can teach me now. I feel like I owe it to him, to play my hardest, because I'm also wearing his name on the back of my jersey."
Harper Jr. was one of just 24 players to be named an AP All-American honorable mention. That was a product not only of his perimeter shooting ability -- converting 40% of his 3-pointers this season -- but also his late-game heroics, making several memorable game-winning shots and other clutch plays that helped Rutgers secure a spot in the NCAA tournament.
Harper also emerged as a versatile defender as his career moved on, often starting games at power forward despite standing only 6-6 but regularly switching onto smaller players and using his 6-11 wingspan to contest jump shots, deny passes off the ball, rotate to help teammates, and use his instincts to get in passing lanes and protect the rim.
Harper says he sees himself evolving into a 3-and-D-style role player at the NBA level in the Robert Covington mold.
"The NBA is more spaced-out basketball; there are different defensive rules. I had to take a lot of contested 3-pointers this year. Those will be open ones in the NBA. The biggest thing NBA teams will see is I'm more athletic than a lot of people realize. I'm going to get my body in the best shape possible to help with that, including improving my eating habits."
Harper says he plans on being another in a long line of second-generation players to exceed expectations in the NBA.
"When you're around the game and people that understand it, it makes it easy to succeed at every level," he said. "I've exceeded everyone's expectations because people around me know the game and know what I need to do to help my team win, and I plan on continuing to do that.
"Being a second-generation player, there is a tendency to overlook us at times because of the expectations and comparisons that come with that. Everyone on in our circle knows what we need to do and tune out the noise, and that keeps us on track."
Jonathan Givony is an NBA draft expert and the founder and co-owner of DraftExpress.com, a private scouting and analytics service utilized by NBA, NCAA and international teams.