Dec. 22, 2011
BY JOSH PATE
On some nights, he already was in a courtside seat when the ball was tipped at Thompson-Boling Arena. Other nights, he walked in midway through the first half in sweatpants and a hooded jacket, clearly just getting off "work."
Either way, Tobias Harris has been coming to watch his Volunteers play basketball this season.
Harris, who was taken in the 19th pick of the 2011 NBA Draft, technically plays for the Milwaukee Bucks. But during the NBA's recent lockout, Harris stayed in Knoxville to work out and take classes at the University of Tennessee.
"I've just been out here taking two classes to further my degree and just trying to get closer to that with this NBA lockout," Harris said. "I'm just playing the waiting game and working out a lot, trying to get my game right."
The waiting game worked. After months of debating, the NBA's owners and players reached an agreement on Nov. 26 to end the lockout and begin a shortened season on Christmas Day.
Waiting, however, didn't disrupt Harris too much.
The workouts were rigorous, so when the Vols played at home early in the season, Harris was there to watch.
"It's definitely great to come back and watch," Harris said. "This is where I originated, where I played at. I like watching basketball, so it's good to just give them support and the fans also to let them know I'm still here watching and enjoying it."
The fans noticed.
Each time Harris walked into the arena to find his seat, the Tennessee faithful showered him with applause and well-wishes. For Harris, the support was inspiring, particularly considering his short stay with the Tennessee program.
He averaged 15.3 points and 7.3 rebounds for Tennessee as a freshman and was on a first-name basis with the UT fan base. Few knew him as Harris. Everyone knew him as Tobias. And he didn't mind.
Harris said the fans are what impress him the most about living in Knoxville and maintaining a close relationship with the Tennessee basketball program.
"I could live anywhere in the world, but what keeps me here is I just like everything that goes on," Harris said. "This whole program, this whole city of Knoxville, it's just amazing. My one year, it was real short and brief, but at the same time it was the best one year of my life, being in college and enjoying playing in Thompson-Boling Arena with fans who are just so passionate about the program we have here."
Harris's passion for basketball was strong, too, and he wanted to realize his childhood dream: Make it to the NBA.
"Just knowing that all the hard work that I've put in is finally paying off," Harris said when trying to recapture his emotions from the moment his named was called during the draft. "Waking up every morning, staying in the gym, and working as hard as I can is finally paying off. It's a dream come true. It's a blessing from God with the ability that He has given me."
The problem, of course, was the lockout. Harris kept working, and the negotiations kept happening. Finally, the NBA owners and players reached a tentative deal on Nov. 26.
With one pen stroke, Harris suddenly was employed again.
"I just look at it as a time for me, as a player, to continue to get better and continue to work on my game and just work on the flaws of my game," Harris said of his time during the lockout. "That's what I've been doing, and I'm just really stuck in the gym."
Finally, after leaving college early only to be forced to wait, Harris will get his crack at the NBA. His first game as a pro will be Monday in Charlotte against the team that originally selected him in the draft.
"As a player, it's a great feeling," Harris said. "When you're a kid growing up, playing basketball in the NBA is the biggest goal ever for a kid. I'm not going to stop working. I'm going to continue to keep working to be the best basketball player I can be."