A crazy theory surfaced a month ago that the Illawarra Hawks might be better off without import Marvelle Harris.
The Hawks had won a couple of games while Harris was sidelined with an ankle injury, prompting comments along the lines that the team functioned more efficiently and fellow import Rotnei Clarke was more effective.
But a funny thing happened – Harris returned, the Hawks kept winning and Clarke has gone from strength to strength.
And let’s not overlook the fact that the man who covered for Harris in the starting lineup – Tim Coenraad – has continued to play well, despite returning to the bench.
Harris knows he isn’t all the way back to his Marvelle-ous self yet, but the just-turned 23-year-old Californian is staying positive and patient.
“I’m slowly getting back the quick step I had and the explosiveness I had earlier in the season,” Harris said.
“I definitely came out of the gates with a lot of firepower. I haven’t got back to that yet but there’s still a lot of season left.
“My body feels great but my ankle’s not 100 percent yet. But I’m playing so I’m not going to make any excuses for that. If I step on the court I’m going to give 100 percent effort.
“Putting pressure on myself is the last thing I want to do. That’s something the guys and Coach [Rob Beveridge] have helped me with, not getting down on myself and just taking it game by game.
“They tell me ‘don’t just think you’re going to come back and be exactly the same player’, because it takes time to get that back. Some injuries are tougher than others, especially something like an ankle because you’re using that the whole game.
“I’m not as explosive as I was, but there’s different ways to be effective in the game. It’s just about staying healthy and trying to get back to the same player I was at the beginning of the season.”
Playing 24 minutes per game, Harris is averaging 13.2 points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.4 steals. He isn’t happy with his 40 percent shooting clip, let alone his 20 percent return from three-point range.
But his teammates and coaches know what the barrel-chested Harris means to Illawarra’s title prospects.
They see a young man still learning how to pick his spots – knowing when to go to the bucket and when to take the pull-up jumper.
Harris is in his first year of professional basketball after starring at Fresno State University and may have underestimated what to expect in the NBL.
“It’s not easy at all,” he said of the transition from college basketball.
“The NBL is a tough league with a lot of good guys and there’s a lot of great competition in it.
“It’s a physical, hard-nosed league. There’s people in the league who are tough to guard and there’s guys who’ll get after you defensively.
“It’s not a league you can take lightly. A lot of people really don’t understand how tough it is until you play in it. It’s not a pushover league.”
Harris and Coenraad essentially play the same position, yet they are very different players.
“Marvelle’s more a penetrator whereas I work better off the ball, and it’s good for the team to have two different styles,” Coenraad said.
“Unfortunately Marvelle’s had trouble with an ankle injury and he was really firing before that. He’s starting to get his swagger back now and attack the rim like he was at the start of the season.
“He fouled out the other night [against Brisbane] and we were still able to maintain. If it’s not my night then Marv’s playing well, so it’s kind of a double-edged threat.
“I’m not a guy that’s going to break down someone one on one. I’m better coming off screens and setting screens and moving off the ball. We’ve tinkered with our offence so I can get more of that, and I’ve enjoyed it.”
Harris said the Hawks get excited when Coenraad jumps off the bench with a certain look in his eyes.
“We call Timmy the Microwave,” he said.
“He comes in and he’s the guy who’s gonna knock down open shots, he’s gonna play at you, he’s gonna the crash the boards aggressively.
“I’m a guy who likes to get to the rim and finish, and create and find players. Wherever I’m lacking at, he fills in, and wherever he’s lacking at, I fill in, so it’s like the perfect combo.”
Harris has loads of respect for Beveridge and described the Hawks as one of the closest teams he has played with.
“I’m learning every day, from practice to games, and the guys are doing a great job helping me just finding different ways to improve,” the 1.93 swingman said.
“Before I even got here I did a workout with coach Bevo, and seeing his resume and all the things he’s done, I knew coming into the system that he was a guy that understood the game.
“He’s a winner. That’s something he’s always been and that’s something I strive to be, so with him leading me, I felt that would be good for me.
“He’s definitely teaching me little things and telling me to stay aggressive, and everything he says I just take it and run with it.”
Illawarra (9-8) are second on the ladder after splitting road games against Cairns and Brisbane last week.
“We had the lead most of the game against Cairns and let it go, but we’re still learning,” Harris said.
“It was always sucks to learn through losses, but we had that one and we didn’t finish the game, and they took advantage of that. It was an ugly win in Brisbane on Monday, but we got the job done.
“We’re definitely in a good position but we’re not content with it. We want to be top of the ladder.
“We’re not going to settle for being a top four team and someone who barely makes it. We’re going to keep pushing until we get that top spot.”
Harris says he misses his family but doesn’t get too homesick.
“Living in Southern California, you have all the beaches here in Wollongong so it kind of has that feeling of home,” he said.
“I talk to my family a lot, but I was gone for four years in college away from my family and I feel like that kind of set me up and helped me deal with it.
“I was a four-hour trip from home to college. Even though I could’ve gone home, by just being on my own and learning how to become a man, I think that’s helping me now.”