Years before he was the Gophers starting point guard on a Final Four and Big Ten title team in 1997, Eric Harris grew up in the Bronx and was a star at St. Raymond High School in New York.
Harris has followed New York City basketball and the University of Minnesota closely over the years.
So imagine his excitement when the U picked up a commitment Sunday from Bronx native Isaiah Washington, a four-star point guard from Harris' former high school.
"Everybody respects the work he put in," Harris said. "You see the progression of his game in terms of finishing with both hands and being able to create off the dribble. He can get anywhere on the court he wants to get to because of his creativity. Obviously, he has to continue to work on his jump shot and defensively he has to get better. But New Yorkers love the underdog -- people who put the work in and improve. So the city is really high on him."
Harris played on the Gophers with former NBA guard Bobby Jackson who took over games with his quickness, end-to-end speed and attacking mentality offenisvely. Those are similar traits for Washington, who scored 46 points in a summer league game this year.
"Bobby was more of a mid-range, catch-and-shoot player," Harris said. "He probably shot the three-ball a little better when I played with him. But Isaiah is crafty. He's that New York City point guard who can make things happen for himself and for other players as well. He's more of a distributor who can score. Where Bobby was more of a deadly scorer."
Back when Harris signed with Clem Haskins and the Gophers in 1994, he was the first player to join the program from New York since Ray Williams in the 1970s. Williams, a Mt. Vernon native, averaged 19 points a game in two seasons under Jim Dutcher from 1975-77, playing with U greats Mychal Thompson and Kevin McHale.
Some people in New York wondered why Harris went to Minnesota at the time.
"Once you go on a visit it just blows you away," Harris said. "Williams Arena, Minneapolis as a city, the many things you can do as a college student and an education at a major university. Most East Coast guys never been to Minnesota."
Minnesota assistant Kimani Young has a connection with Washington as the former director of the New Heights AAU program in New York. Harris and his St. Raymond All-American backcourt teammate Kareem Reid played against Young and Forest Hills High School in Queens in the early 1990s.
"I've known Kimani for a long time," Harris said. "Obviously, he was a well known personality in the high school circuit and the AAU circuit when was here, too."
Harris hopes that Washington's commitment starts a pipeline with more New York City players coming to play for the Gophers. Sophomore guard Dupree McBrayer is from Queens.
"It starts with a piece like (Washington)," Harris said. "Amir (Coffey) was a great piece from Minnesota. That freshmen class coming in is great. Now you've got Isaiah committed (in 2017). If you start getting other pieces, then the foundation can be strong. It starts with pieces and certain types of players. I think Amir is one, and Isaiah is another one. You just start building from there."
Check out Harris' basketball blog here. He's had some informative Gophers-related posts.