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Utah Jazz: Getting to know new point guard Devin Harris

Published: Wednesday, July 29 2015 2:03 p.m. MDT

Devin Harris (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News) Devin Harris (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

NEW YORK — Prior to admitting that Deron Williams' mom didn't like him in college and ahead of revealing that his shoe collection might rival that of the entire Jazz Dancers squad, and moments before alternating between humming and whistling along with a hotel lobby harpist's rendition of "Memory" from Cats, Devin Harris cracked a slight smile upon hearing that Utah basketball fans are eager to get to know who their new starting point guard is.

Both professionally and personally.

"Aren't we all," Harris responded.

Indeed.

Here are 34 tidbits and insights that shed some light on the guy who's envious of C.J. Miles' jersey number and whose charitable foundation is named 34 Ways To Assist:

Devin Harris (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News) Devin Harris (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

34 — Why 34 topics? For one thing, that has been Harris' number in the NBA with the Dallas Mavericks — whom he joined via a draft-day trade with Washington as the No. 5 pick of the 2004 Draft — and the New Jersey Nets.

Being traded to Utah forced him to change his team name and number in his seventh season.

So why 34? Harris picked those digits because one of his mentors, fellow state of Wisconsin product Tony Smith, sported that number during his nine-year NBA career in the 1990s with the Los Angeles Lakers and several other teams.

Both guys attended Wauwatosa East High School in Milwaukee (at different times), and Smith took Harris under his wings when he returned to his alma mater to help coach. Harris credits Smith for spurring his growth during his junior year in high school when it became evident that the point guard and eventual Wisconsin Mr. Basketball (2001) had a bright hoops future.

Devin Harris (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News) Devin Harris (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

This, of course, gives Jazz fans one more reason to love the Lakers.

"Tony was just, he was great," Harris said. "On the basketball part, he just taught me things. He's been preaching the mid-range jump shot, I swear since I was like 15. I never had to use it until now."

33 — Even with Smith's tutelage, the NBA veteran credits his dad, Terry Harris, for being the most influential person in his life and career.

"He's the one," Harris said, "who taught me the fundamentals and put me on the path."

His father was also the one who made Harris learn how to use both hands and put him through rigorous film sessions beginning when he was all of 11 years old or so.

"He broke out the video camera," Harris recalled. "He was taping everything, all the games, and we'd sit and watch it afterward and he'd point things out."

Devin Harris__Utah point guard Devin Harris, left, powers past the Kings' Beno Udrih during the Jazz's overtime win on Saturday. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News) Devin Harris__Utah point guard Devin Harris, left, powers past the Kings' Beno Udrih during the Jazz's overtime win on Saturday. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

Son forced dad to cut the umbilical VCR cord when he went to play college ball at Wisconsin.

"He still tries to do it," Harris said, chuckling, "but I don't really want to hear it."

32 — Another important person in Harris' development was his older brother, Bruce Harris. Devin, who's four years younger, followed in Bruce's footsteps and often took a pounding while playing him while growing up. "Him beating me up," is how Harris describes their earlier battles.

But the pain paid off.

"I was always competitive with him," Harris said. "He was always bigger than me, so I'm used to going against guys bigger than me, trying to outdo them. That's what really drives me."

Devin Harris (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News) Devin Harris (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

That's why he doesn't mind following in the footsteps of Hall of Fame-caliber players like Steve Nash (Dallas), Jason Kidd (New Jersey) and D-Will (Utah), and why he doesn't let his slight 190-pound frame keep him from being physical and competing.

"I like being the underdog, not the well-known (guy) coming in," Harris said. "(And) trying to be competitive and trying just to beat the other guy."

Including his brother, which eventually started happening. Until, that is, Bruce stopped playing him.

"He wants no part of me right now," said Harris, who also has a non-athletic younger sister. "He stopped playing a long time ago."

31 — Harris' Favorite sport growing up? "Baseball was my first love." He was both a pitcher — "That's what I thought I was going to do," he said — and a hard-core Milwaukee Brewers' fan. (He'll even tell you that the Brew Crew has only made it to the playoffs once in his lifetime — in 2008 when C.C. Sabathia shut down every one from the mound — and that he's excited about "big moves" Milwaukee made this past offseason. Of course, he also admits to attending Cubs games growing up so he could root for a winning team, that's how desperate he was.)

Utah point guard Devin Harris, left, powers past the Kings' Beno Udrih during the Jazz's overtime win on Saturday.     (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News) Utah point guard Devin Harris, left, powers past the Kings' Beno Udrih during the Jazz's overtime win on Saturday. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

He also excelled at volleyball the one year he played it in high school.

30 — Harris' dad believed in his NBA abilities from an early age, even sharing that dream when they'd attend Milwaukee Bucks games together. Not Harris, though. He was clumsy, lacking balance, and used to injure himself while running into various things as a youngster.

"I was a late bloomer. ... I didn't believe. I thought it was loony," Harris said. "I thought every dad wants his kid to be that guy, but he definitely kept it going."

Harris caught the vision at Wisconsin after he said his balance, athleticism and speed "all kind of came into one" during high school.

29 — D-Will and Harris are now friends — the new Jazz guy even used to golf in Williams' annual charity tournament — but the two Big Ten point guards from Wisconsin and Illinois were bitter rivals back in the day.

Harris laughs about that now.

"I really didn't like him then. I don't think he liked me. His mom pretty much told me she didn't like me in college," Harris said, amused with the memory. "It was just the brutal battles, and then once we made it into the league we just sort of hit it off then."

Harris smiled and admitted the subject of renting Williams' Utah home has even been broached.

28 — That's how old Harris turned on Feb. 27, which happened to be the first day he arrived in Utah after being a key piece in the D-Will deal. It also happened to be the day when a fan stopped his vehicle in the middle of the road at a Salt Lake City mall, hopped out and hustled to meet the new Jazz player. "I was a little freaked out," Harris said. "But it was a good freaked out."

27 — Harris left Wisconsin after his junior season (2003-04) — when he was a second-team All-American and the Big Ten player of the year. The Badger said he's "slowly but surely" working on finishing his bachelor's degree.

26 — Harris' admitted weakness off the court? "Shoes." But not just any shoes — Adidas shoes (his sponsor and a brand he's worn since he was 12). Over the years, Harris has collected 475 pair. They're not in some fancy shoe shrine, though. They're all boxed up in the garage — call it his foot locker — of his Dallas home.

"It's just one of those things," he said, trying to explain his footwear fixation. "I think every NBA player has a weakness, whether it be jewelry or clothes. Mine are shoes."

His collection's pieces de resistance include vintage 1980 shoes with an alarm clock built inside and a pair of diamond-encrusted Superstars.

Harris' treasure trove does not include shoes he sports during games (usually for about three nights per pair). He donates his playing shoes to charitable causes.

25 — Harris fondly calls ex-Dallas standout Michael Finley, whose Wisconsin single-season scoring record he broke, "my first veteran."

24 — Of course, Harris also blames Finley for helping him pick up "bad habits" such as an affinity for "very unique" timepieces and cars.

23 — Toughest part of a trade? Is it leaving friends behind, moving and packing, getting chased by fans in the street?

"I think it's more learning a new system, especially mid-season, especially in this type of situation where we're in a playoff hunt and we don't have time to really take a step back and really try to fit me in," Harris said. "We've got to move forward as we go along. I've got to try to learn as fast as I can."

22 — As for moving, Harris has settled into a nice hotel in Salt Lake City — not Williams' abode — where a harpist played a familiar broadway/Barbara Streisand tune that he couldn't help but accompany out loud mid-interview. He'll go house-hunting this summer. No word on whether the harpist will play in his home.

21 — Harris averaged a career-high 21.3 points — with 6.9 assists — during his only All-Star campaign in 2008-09.

20 — This was Harris' number in high school — one that was retired by the Red Raiders in 2007. And Gordon Hayward's number was the one he thought of wearing after finding out Miles had his preferred digits. "Coming here, the first thing I was, 'Dang. C.J.'s got 34. G-Man's got 20. I don't know what I'm going to wear.'"

19. — Harris' favorite charities to support are Big Brothers/Big Sisters and the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and he's been honored by the NBA for his charitable actions. He also holds an annual clinic through his foundation and worked with kids to be physically active while in New Jersey (and he's bummed to have missed a horseback riding expedition). Harris plans on spreading his philanthropic efforts to Utah once he's settled in.

18 — The first person Harris calls when something good or bad happens is usually Tiffany Farha, who handles his personal affairs, runs his foundation, handles his marketing and whom he admiringly calls his "life coach." No. 2 on the list: Dad.

17 — He was raised in Milwaukee, but the cheesehead native and most of his family now live in Dallas. His dad, mom Julie and Bruce relocated there after Harris joined the Mavericks, and they haven't missed not using a snow shovel since then.

"They loved the weather," said Harris, who owns a home in the Big D. "They didn't want to deal with the snow anymore in Wisconsin. They liked it and they stayed."

Harris, too.

"That's home," he said of Dallas. "That's home."

16 — Why Harris likes granting kids' wishes so much: "One of my better friends developed cancer when we were in middle school (they were 11). He went through the Make-a-Wish Foundation and got to meet Scottie Pippen at an All-Star Game."

Continued Harris: "I saw the difference when he got back and how full of life he was. It was just something I always thought about doing. When I got the chance I just tried to execute it as much as possible."

15 — He doesn't have any juicy stories to recant about fellow Wisconsinite Rick Majerus, but Harris did attend a basketball camp in high school at the University of Utah that was put on by the ex-Ute coach. Was he tempted to be play for the U.? "I was a Wisconsin guy," he said, politely.

14 — Career-high points: 47 vs. Phoenix on 14-for-25 shooting on Nov. 30, 2008.

13 — Career-high assists: 15 against Indiana on March 26, 2008.

12 — Last season in New Jersey was hands-down the lowlight of Harris' career. It wasn't until March 29 when the Nets won their 10th game, preventing them from slumming in the NBA history books with the nine-win 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers.

"Flirting with being on one of the worst teams in history, only winning 12 games, it's kind of hard to take," Harris said. "(Winning) the 10th game was big."

11 — One thing Harris won't be doing anytime soon in Utah's mountains: "I'm not going to ski."

10 — Harris values his relationship with his Wisconsin coach, Bo Ryan. "More off the court than on the court," said Harris, whose sophomore team made a Sweet 16 run. "We still talk to this day."

9 — Harris is under contract with the Jazz for about $9 million for the next two seasons. One thing he loves about Utah is that the organization is "expected to win."

8 — His NBA highlights — not counting the first week with Utah, of course — were getting picked up by the surging Mavericks and then making it to the league championship with Dallas in his second season (2006). "Starting in the Finals," he said, "was huge." Unfortunately for Harris, his Mavs lost 4-2 to Miami, which was led by Marquette star and his friend, Dwyane Wade.

7 — It's been less than two weeks, but Harris already feels comfortable in Utah. "The guys have been great." Harris said he picks Raja Bell's brain about all sorts of basketball stuff. He developed chemistry with Al Jefferson at USA Basketball events, and he's starting to build a relationship with Paul Millsap. When it comes to learning his point guard duties, Harris spoke highly of his backups. "Earl (Watson) and Ronnie Price have been the best guys as far as helping me out with the offense." The fond feelings are reciprocated, too.

6 — The speedy Harris' claim to fame: He earned a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records and the first title of being the planet's so-called "fastest man with a basketball" after racing the length of the court (94 feet) in 3.9 seconds at All-Star festivities in 2009, a feat that can be seen at NBA.com.

5 — Harris settled on five as his Jazz jersey number, a decision that has a silver lining. "I'm happy with five," he said. "It's so much easier signing autographs with a single digit. You have no idea."

4 — Harris has a special bond with Denver's coach, who used to live in his neck of the woods. "George Karl ran our AAU program, so I was very tight with him growing up." He added that Karl's successful Bucks teams energized the place. "That was an exciting time for Milwuakee."

3 — Three players this old Bucks fan used to love watch play: Ray Allen, Glenn "Big Dog" Robinson and Sam Cassell. "I looked up to all of those guys." Harris liked watching them practice, too. "Although," he added with a grin, "Sam didn't practice much."

2 — What defines Harris? "I'm competitive, but yet I enjoy the game. I enjoy teammates, being a good teammate. I'm full of life. I can just be competitive, enjoy (playing) and I know it can be taken away at any time."

1 — Similar to John Stockton, you'll likely never see Harris slam the ball. "I can't dunk anymore," the 6-foot-3 guard said. OK, he can, but he chooses not to. "I used to be a big dunker. But as the years go on, I'd rather shoot a layup and use my energy for other things."

Like, say, collecting shoes.

e-mail: jody@desnews.com

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