After being passed over by each team in the NBA twice during last June's Draft, Manny Harris went on to play in 52 games this past season as a free agent rookie from Michigan. The Detroit native scored over 20 points four times, started 15 games, and averaged 6 points in about 17 minutes of action per night as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers. I caught up with Manny Harris on Monday night to talk about his rookie year in the NBA, what he's up to this summer, and how he's preparing for year two with the Cavs. Our conversation is below.
Stepien Rules: You came in as an undrafted free agent last year and went on to play in over fifty games with the Cavs. When you look back at your first season, do you feel like you proved some people wrong in some ways by demonstrating that you can play in the NBA?
Manny Harris: We didn’t have the best season in terms of wins and losses last year, but me personally I think I learned a whole lot and got some good experience. I don’t think I did anything yet, I got a whole lot of work to do, but just going out there, having some successful games, and just getting my feet wet a little bit, I do think I turned a couple people’s heads around in the NBA. Now I gotta just keep doing that, especially this upcoming season.
SR: How were conversations between Chris Grant and yourself left before the lockout, or were there any, as far as where he sees you fitting in both next year and down the road with the Cavaliers?
MH: Our relationship has always been great between my agent and Chris Grant, me and Chris Grant, me and Coach Scott and all the coaches, but at the end of the day I know the Cavs will do what’s best for them. From the talks I had with them it seems like I’m in the plans, but it’s not going to come easy just like it didn’t come easy last year. I know I just gotta keep working and that I’m going to have to beat out some guys.
SR: Who are some of those guys you think you might need to beat out, is there anyone in particular?
MH: To tell you the truth, I’m not sure exactly but I’m preparing - just like anybody I’d hope would prepare – I’m preparing to be a contributor like 6th man, starting type guy. I want to be a contributing factor to this team, and that’s how I’m preparing. So if I prepare to be one of those top guys, I feel like I will have the best chance of making the team then of course, and go from there.
SR: What are you up to this off-season as far as staying in shape during the lockout goes, and how are you preparing for year two in the NBA?
MH: I’m just out in New Jersey right now, I have a strength and condition trainer there and also a basketball trainer, and we’re just going hard three times a day, everyday, just trying to stay ready for whenever the season’s here.
SR: As far as your training goes, are there different parts of your game that you’re working on specifically based on last season, or are you working more on your overall game as a whole?
MH: I’m a person that feels like I’m an all-around player, so I’m going to continue to always work on every part of my game. But as far as specifics, I am really working on my ball-handling, I’m focused on getting stronger, and I’m also working on improving my mid-range game.
SR: Is some of that ball handling work focused on getting ready to play a little more PG in the future, or is it more to just be able to handle it better at a two?
MH: One and the two. Like I did last year I play both positions, and I know with that I have to keep getting better. Ball handling is one of the areas I think needs improvement.
SR: I read that you had a free basketball camp in Detroit a couple weeks ago. Can you talk about what motivated you to want to do that, how did the camp go from your perspective, and is that something you’d like to continue to do in the future as well?
MH:The camp was excellent. I had about three hundred kids at the camp, we had a picnic the next day, there were a lot of kids up for that too, and we just had a lot of fun. Basically, I just wanted to do it because as a kid I wasn’t able to see that type of stuff growing up. I didn’t get the chance to go to camps with NBA players there, and I think as a kid growing up in the inner city what a lot of kids do see is people who are successful in a negative way. As far as drug dealing, and stuff like that, kids see that and that’s kinda like what they want to be. Those are the people who become inner city idols instead of being able to see NBA players or people who are successful in positive ways up close and personal. I just felt like in doing this, I could help kids change their view in life about what is successful by letting them see an NBA player and other people who are successful in positive ways up close and personal, and maybe make them want to be an NBA player, or a business person, or just anything that’s positive as a result.
SR: How did the camp work, could any kid just sign up, and was it free to everybody?
MH: Yeah any kid could sign up and it was free. We gave out some dates for registration and it was first come first serve but we still accepted some kids at the door too. It was pretty hard to turn anybody down who wanted to participate. The more successful I’m able to get, the more I’m going to continue to keep doing things like this, and I’m working hard to stay successful in the NBA.
SR: How would you compare this upcoming season's roster to last year's with respect to the moves made this off-season in trading JJ, drafting Kyrie and Tristan, and bringing in Omri Casspi?
MH: I can only control what I can control as far as the trades go and all that, but as far as the picks with Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson their both young guys, who are athletic, bring energy and are real good also. I just think I’m going to love playing with those guys not only next year, but years to come, and I think the sky’s the limit for this team. We have a chance to play with each other for years to come, and I think it could be real fun.
SR: As far as the lockout goes, have you been in contact with any teams to talk about possibly playing overseas in the meantime or is that something you’re interested in at all?
MH: No, right now I am just committed to play in the NBA. Later on down the line, if the lockout will continue to go on, I’ll let my agent control that part and tell me what some options are at that point. But for right now, I’m just trying to stay as ready as possible so when the lockout does end I’ll be on my A-game.
SR: What would you say Byron Scott’s impact was on your game last season, and can you talk about your experience playing for him?
MH: It was a fun experience. His system was great, and not only that he’s a coach who’s actually really played the game. He was successful, won championships, so I learned a lot for him. It was fun playing for that team, because the system is good and he’s a coach that’s not going to allow you settle. He’s a hard-nosed coach and that’s how I like to be coached, so it was a great year all around. I learned a lot from him and the other coaches on the staff.
SR: What were your impressions of Cavs fans last season?
MH: I think they’re excellent, I think they’re great. Especially coming in for my first year and just to see how packed the NBA arena was [in Cleveland], and then I’d go to other arenas sometimes and even though we didn’t have the best record we’d have more people in our stands than those teams with better records. The support they showed in the games we did win I think they were a major part in that, they were our sixth man, and it was great. Even just walking around the community, walking around in Cleveland, the way they support you and show you a whole lot of love out there is great.
SR: Have there been any guys who maybe thought they’d be drafted this past June but weren't, that have since reached out to you to talk about how you were able overcome that as a rookie, and break into the league anyways like you did last season? And if so, what did you tell those guys?
MH: There were several guys who I talked to after the draft who didn’t either go as high as they wanted to go or didn’t get drafted at all. I just told them basically – even though I’m still trying to get my foot all the way in the door – I just told them you gotta just keep grinding. All it takes is for that one team to like you and you gotta just keep working hard. There’s no stopping, and there’s no getting down on yourself because at the end of the day the Draft is still just another person’s opinion. As long as you have one hundred and ten percent confidence in yourself you can still be successful. At the same time its not easy at all. I told some guys that actually making it in the NBA is more cut-throat than a lot people would think. Its really a man’s game when you come from college to the NBA, and you gotta be ready physically and mentally, for everything.
Thanks to Manny Harris for catching up with us here at Stepien Rules. Keep grinding Manny, best of luck.
Photo Credit: Talk of Detroit