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November 5, 2011Michigan State will be playing host to one of its most important, most anticipated basketball recruiting visits in several years when Indianapolis guard Gary Harris arrives in East Lansing today for his official visit.
Harris has already taken official visits to Purdue, Indiana and Kentucky. Michigan State will be his last visit. He has not announced when he will make a decision, but one could come as early as next week during the early signing period, Nov. 9-16.
Harris is ranked the No. 1 shooting guard in the country by ESPN's Dave Telep, and No. 10 overall. He is ranked the No. 3 shooting guard by Rivals.com and No. 25 overall.
Harris is the highest-ranked, most hotly-recruited shooting guard to visit Michigan State since Shannon Brown signed with the Spartans in 2003.
The Spartans have three commitments from four-star, Top 100 recruits for the class of 2012 in post players Matt Costello and Kenny Kaminski and combo wing Denzel Valentine.
Rivals.com ranks Michigan State's class No. 15 in the country. A commitment from Harris could push the Spartans into the Top 5, not that Tom Izzo was overly concerned about recruiting rankings in assembling six Final Four teams since 1999, the most by any coach in Big Ten history.
Most importantly to Izzo, Harris could provide the Spartans with a major component in a reloading process. If Harris chooses Michigan State, he would be a freshman when Keith Appling is a junior and former McDonald's All-American Branden Dawson is a sophomore. Former Top 20 recruit Adreian Payne will be a junior next year, and former Michigan Mr. Basketball Derrick Nix will be a senior.
The Spartans are working to complement the 2012 recruiting class by going after several high-end recruits for 2013, including wings James Young of Troy (Mich.) High and Jabari Parker of Chicago Simeon. Parker is ranked the No. 2 player in the country for 2013 by Rivals.com and Young is No. 16.
SpartanMag.com was unable to make contact with Harris this week via telephone. Harris was focused on leading his Hamilton Southeastern High football team into for Friday night's state football playoff game, in which he helped Hamilton Southeastern defeat defending state champion Fishers High School, 35-10. Harris' team advances to the Regionals, next week.
Harris, a wide receiver who has set various school records this year, has hit double digits in TD receptions and is generally regarded as one of the top three football players in Indiana this year. However, he will focus on basketball in college.
Harris' visit to Michigan State would have started on Friday, had his football team not advanced deep into the state playoffs.
Harris is due to arrive in East Lansing some time after 1 p.m. on Saturday. He will attend Michigan State's football game against Minnesota, arriving after kickoff. Harris has attended other Michigan State football games in 2009 and 2010. He first attended an MSU basketball game at Breslin Center as a sophomore.
Because of his football obligations, he was not able to attend Michigan State's 80-58 exhibition victory over Hillsdale on Friday night at the Breslin Center. Kaminsky, Costello and Valentine were at the game as part of their official visits to Michigan State.
Izzo is not permitted to speak about unsigned recruits, but has indicated that current players such as senior Draymond Green have taken a sense of ownership and a role of leadership in recruiting visit weekends thus far in the fall. Izzo said Green rallied his current teammates together and instructed them to help recruits enjoy recent visits to Michigan State when the Spartans played host to several sophomores and juniors in October.
Juniors such as Young, Thomas Hamilton, Demetrius Jackson, Cliff Alexander and sophomore power forward Tyler Wideman took unofficial visits to Michigan State during the weekend of the Spartans' football victory against Michigan.
Alexander (6-9, 240, Chicago Curie High) is ranked the No. 9 player in the class of 2014 by Rivals.com, and the No. 1 power forward.
Hamilton (6-9, 240, Chicago Whitney Young) is ranked No. 30 in the class of 2013 by Rivals.com and the No. 3 center.
Drake Harris (6-4, 180, Grand Rapids Christian) is likely to be the top sophomore in Michigan this season. Young is the top junior.
Jackson, a 6-1, 179-point point guard from Mishawaka, Ind. and Marian High School, is ranked the No. 67 player in the country for the class of 2013 and is a Plan A recruit for Izzo, his staff and his current Spartan players.
"Draymond grabbed the team and told them that the one thing we've got to do is a better job recruiting," Izzo said. "You're talking about a guy who is a senior that won't be here for one of the recruits coming in. That is Magic Johnson, Mateen Cleaves-ish, in terms of taking ownership of the program, which is the way it's been around here in the past, and we're getting back to that in a hurry."
This weekend, Gary Harris, Kaminsky, Valentine and Costello will get all of the attention.
"Gary Harris would be like a typical, ideal MSU wing - super athletic, can pile up the points in transition," said longtime Midwestern basketball analyst Stephen Bell of BankHoops.com. "Defensively, he has everything you need to guard someone. Of the guys they have coming in, he would be their leading scorer, I would imagine."
Bell has evaluated Harris as both an analyst and an opposing AAU basketball coach. In addition to running a basketball recruiting service, Bell also helps oversee the ACB/BankHoops elite travel basketball team. Last summer, Bell's team was coached by former University of Michigan and NBA player Tim McCormick.
"In the last two years, we have played against some good freaking players and Gary Harris is the one player we had no answer for," Bell said. "He's smooth and explosive. When he'd turn it on, we couldn't really deal with him.
"He has that next gear going to the basket. He separates himself so easily.
"He plays like a 6-foot-7 stud athlete, but just in smaller form. When he's coming at you, that's what it seems like, even though he's not that big."
The 6-foot-6 Harris has been a jet in transition, with excellent scoring feel for a number of seasons. In the summer of 2011 he displayed improved ball handling skill, which enabled him to take his game to a new level.
"He became more of a real, legit guard," Bell said.
The improved ball handling skill was on display at the Lebron James Skills Academy in July when he made a steal, went between the legs from back-to-front while accelerating, and then sped to the rim for a lay-up.
Later, leading a three-on-one break, he sold the pass, took it to the rim and finished a double-clutch lay-up in traffic while getting fouled.
Spartan fans might see him as a mixture of some of the best assets of Alan Anderson and Charlie Bell, each of whom were team MVPs for Spartan Final Four squads, plus the athletic burst of an Eric Snow. His sportsmanship and character are comparable to those players as well.
"The other thing that made him stand out," Bell said, "is that when he was younger, coming up and playing up with older guys, sometimes his teammates would be talking on the court like they were the superstars but then there was the quiet kid that was just murdering you, and it was him."
Harris' game is still being developed. He is a good shooter, with goals of taking that aspect of his game up a level as well.
"I feel like my ball handling is a lot better and I feel like I'm getting better with my shot; it is becoming more consistent," Harris told SpartanMag.com during the summer circuit. "I want to work on all aspects of my game, all the time: Ball handling. Shooting. Being more consistent with the outside jump shot. Getting my teammates involved."
That's a level of work ethic that has been handed down to Gary Harris from his mother, Joy Harris, who was an All-American at Purdue and played in the WNBA.
"She always told me to work hard, don't take any plays off and keep a level head when all of this recruitment is going on, and don't take anything for granted," Harris said.
She instilled those ideals not only in conversation, but also on the court. Mom used to kick Gary's tail on the basketball court when he was a youngster.
"We started playing back in the back yard, and we used to play quite a bit," said the son. "She gave me a good game up until I was about 12- or 13-years-old. Then after that, she doesn't want to play me anymore, I think because I was getting better. I think she might have won the last game we played and I wanted to play her again, but she wouldn't play me again. I may have beaten her, maybe once, but then she won that last one, and that was it. No more."
Joy Harris and Gary's father, Gary Sr., have kept a sharp eye on Gary's recruiting process.
"I think the main difference in any of the official visits from my standpoint and possibly from his and definitely from my wife's standpoint is the amount of time that can be spent," Harris Sr. told Rivals.com last week. "When you are going for a basketball game the staff and the players aren't really focused on you because they are focused on the game. They are still going to be cordial and friendly and all of that, but you don't get the one-on-one attention that you get on an official visit.
"Ultimately you want to get a bigger and a better understanding of the people that you are sitting down with and that's where the official visits are important."
Gary Harris will get that opportunity, this weekend in East Lansing.
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