“You have a kid playing in front of 18,000 in Indiana, every seat is full, on the biggest stages, in any game we need to go to the NCAA Championship,” Bickel said. And you’re in those gatherings, and you just know what it is: ‘Give me the ball. ”
This is the legend of Ron Harper, Jr. In his four years at Rutgers, Harper—the son of a former five-time NBA champion—goed from a disrespected three-star to a Big Ten and fought late in the game, all while elevating the moribund program to The first NCAA tournaments in nearly four decades. When the Toronto Raptors gave him a two-way deal after Harper went without drafting, they landed one of the most interesting collective development success stories of the past four seasons, not to mention a very interesting piece of the NBA.
It’s hard to overstate how traditional Rutgers men’s basketball was before the arrival of Harper Jr. Bickel’s third year was Harper’s new season. Pikiell took a small risk on Harper, who didn’t have many big showings, which is kind of what you’ll have to do on a program that hasn’t been in the NCAA tournament in 38 years. It immediately became apparent that Harper was a late-development steal, and it was Harper’s class (with Miles Johnson and Montez-Mattis) that lifted Rutgers from 130th on KenPom.com who revised the proficiency ratings in 2017-18 to the next 78th then The twenty-eighth season after that year. Rutgers could have easily broken the course drought in 2020 had the event not been called off, but the Scarlet Knights bounced back the following season (and won a championship game) anyway.
“I remember when he came here, everyone in the New York metropolitan area said they couldn’t play at that level,” Bickel said. “As he got better, so did our program. He came to a school that wasn’t exciting at all. He made it exciting.”
Harper sealed Piscataway’s icon status not only by building the program or returning for a real graduating season, but in leading Rutgers—sometimes alone—to return from their disastrous start to the 2021-22 campaign. Team Pikiell lost to DePaul, Lafayette (rank: 323) and UMass in nine days in November, the kind of stretch that could end your hopes of a championship bid early. But on December 9, at home against Bordeaux, Harper made one of the picks of the season, a half-court swing to the wrath of the No. 1 boilermaker.
This shot, like other bell-hitters, hit Harper’s season extension, and got the most attention, understandably so. But Harper was unguarded the entire second half. He made every previous big shot to keep his team in that match in the first place. This will become the theme of the year. Harper’s game has evolved to the point where he can now score effectively on all three levels, and the opponent’s defenses have reliably struggled against him, especially when Harper is behind in his late moves and steps. Playing a guard against him will bury you deep behind his width, ahem, in the shaft; Matching with a big guy will have you uncomfortably off the edge. Harper shot 40 percent of the 3, and he hits 44 percent of his field goals from behind the arc. He didn’t overdo it with the mid-range stuff either, attempting only 22.7 percent of his field goals as a two-point jump, according to Hoop-Math.com.
Besides developing his skill pack, Harper offers unique physical strength. Standing at just under 6 feet 6 inches tall, he’s not traditionally ideal, but his strength and sheer density mean he doesn’t move around in low mass, and has often cycled between sentinels on the ocean and Big Ten’s endless supply of traditional positions. He has a wingspan of 7 feet 1. He gives a bit of PJ Tucker/Grant Williams feedback; You can see him as a player who makes up for his lack of height with strength and versatility, who can handle the ball and play some goalkeeper better than either. And there is a lot of physical potential that has yet to be unlocked – which is also part of the choice risk. Harper got into the mix with 14.5 percent body fat. He always carried a little wood. Can Harper improve his body and get on his feet fast enough to get all his strength working together at the NBA level?
Harper has a long history of steady development, from his four years in high school to the four years that made him a cult hero in college. “His best basketball is ahead of him a lot,” Bikel said. “Someone will take it, and in a few years you will say: ‘Wow – what a great choice. ”
(Photo: Trevor Roskowski/USA Today)