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New Gophers freshman Jamir Harris brings shooting and leadership

The Gophers welcomed Class of 2017 recruit Jamir Harris to the team this week, giving him a headstart on his freshman year with summer school around the corner in mid-June.

Harris, a 6-foot-1 guard from Patrick School (N.J.), is known as one of the top three-point shooters in his class, but he hopes to bring a lot more to Richard Pitino's team next season.  

In an interview with the Star Tribune last week, Harris talked about his senior season, fellow recruit Isaiah Washington, expectations for himself and the Gophers and more. 

Q: How does it feel to be a high school graduate and be going off to college? 

A: My senior year definitely happened quickly. I’m excited and very anxious to experience these new things that college is going to bring to my life. I’m very excited to go down there and be a part of the Gophers.

Q: Will you and Isaiah Washington be roommates?

A: Yeah we’re pretty sure we’re rooming together. He’s not going to be there exactly the same time (arrives June 10) as me. But he’ll be coming shortly after. It definitely helps because I know him. I’m already comfortable with (Gophers junior guard) Dupree McBrayer. I played with him in high school. That helps as well. Coming into college with another freshman I’m real cool with that’s going to definitely help. We can both learn the ropes together as freshmen.

Q: The Patrick School finished as one of the top teams in the country. How proud were you of the way your team played this last season?

A: As a team, we did what we’ve been striving to do for four years. We got a (Tournament of Champions title) that was our main goal to at least get one. There isn't a better thing than to get one on the way out. My senior year, I was extremely pleased and proud to have a TOC under my belt. It was the first Tournament of Champions title in the history of the Patrick School. Formerly, St. Pat’s had a few TOC rings, but it was the first one since we became the Patrick School. So I’m honored to be the first of the new legacy.

Q: How did you feel the season went for you individually?

A: Personally, I felt like I had a really good season. I scored 1,000 points. This year, I felt like I really showed my maturity and growth as a player. I’ve shown people how I can have an impact at the next level. That’s really what I wanted to do when I was going into college. Individually for this year, I have grown since my freshman year. I’ve learned a lot of new things. Coach (Chris) Chavannes and (assistant Mike Rice) have preached to us a lot of things that will be needed in college to be great players. I’m more than prepared to play at the college level because of their guidance and what they’ve taught me.

Q: What types of things did they help you develop in high school?

A: I was fond of shooting off the dribble. That’s what I always did before I came to high school. I created my own shot from anywhere on the floor. That’s something I still do until this day. But in high school, I had to learn how to set screens and free myself to get open off screens, pin downs and back screens. Basically, I learned a wider variety of catch-and-shoot ability, different ways to catch and shoot. They helped my game to be able to do both. That will help me depending on what my position or role will be on the team. Defensively, I go to know the rotations and where to be at certain times depending how the offense is playing us. That was instilled in me by Coach Chavannes since my eighth grade year. When I first started dealing with it, it was a lot. It didn’t think I was going to be able to get it. But as the years have gone on, I think I’ve got it like the back of my hand. How to guard ball screens and to get in help position, I think I know all of that well. My coach always told a lot players coming out of St. Pat’s and St. Anthony, schools like that, are ready to play college basketball right away. A lot kids are taught defense that well in high school, so I feel like that will be an advantage for me at the next level. I’ll have to get stronger and quicker in college. Everybody has to make that adjustment, but I just feel like I’ve grown as a complete player.

Q: You were like the big man on campus at Patrick School because of your leadership on and off the court. Why was that so important to you?

A: I take pride in having that role for a lot of people. I feel like I’m a true leader. I’m extremely vocal. My team's best interest is all I have in mind. I think about my teammates way before I think about myself. I just try to make sure my teammates are (on the same page). I don’t have a problem talking on defense. Some guys think they’re too cool to talk on defense. You have to be vocal. Even if you’re not involved in a screen and roll, you have to yell to your fellow guard if a big man isn’t calling the screen out. You can call it out for them. I take pride in doing things like that, just being vocal. I’m always letting my teammates know I’m there. That’s a big part of being a leader. As far as school, I hold myself to a high standard. I’m very respectful. I take pride in hearing compliments from people who say I’m respectful and how their younger sons and daughters look up to me. It makes me want to stay motivated and stay humble. I’m very humble. You ask anybody and they’ll tell you I never get out of character or act in the slightest way cocky or like I have a big head. Some people at times tell me I should be more cocky and arrogant. But that’s not me. I really take pride in having a positive impact on people in that way. It motivates me to want to work harder and continue to be successful. My determination, the impact of others on me and my family makes me want to be more successful, stay level headed and have tunnel vision on my task at hand to be a great college player.

Q: What did you think about the Gophers major turnaround this season?

A: After their losing season, I knew everybody was down on them. But once I went down on my visit I saw the guys and met my future teammates. I saw how hard they worked and how hard they worked together as a unit to get better. I knew the next year was going to be a great one, a better one. I had a strong feeling that was going to happen, because I had seen how hard those guys worked. They worked way too hard not to be on the winning end, instead of the losing end. I knew they probably were going to have a bounce back year. They turned out to have an extremely great year, making the NCAA tournament. We fell short in the first round, but that was a huge jump from the year before. So I kind of knew we were going to have a lot better year just seeing my teammates and how hard they worked. You could tell coming off a bad year, they were on a mission to have a better year. They really opened some eyes. I’m pretty sure we’re going to be ranked top 25 to start the year off, right. That’s amazing. I’m just really excited to be part of this Gophers family. I know we’re going to put in all the work we need to continue to succeed, and I’m looking forward to it.

Q: What do you think your role will be as a freshman?

A: Coming in as a freshman, I want to show I can be vocal and involved with everything that’s going on. My ability to shoot the ball and catch and shoot off the dribble is something they really needed. My ability to play both guard positions is something they needed as well. Coach Pitino talked to me about it. I’m just ready to make an impact. Whatever I need to do for the team, I’m going to do it to the best of my ability. I care about the success of the team as a whole. I want to be part of a winning program. I know we can be a winning program just like we were this past year.

Q: Are you going to try to become a member of the Jelly Fam since you’re rooming with Isaiah Washington this year? (Washington created the Jelly Fam movement with friends in New York City by naming a flashy finger roll layup).

A:  Nah. I really don’t need to be in the Jelly Fam (Harris said laughing). Me and Isaiah are cool. But that’s really not my thing. I don’t really Jelly like that. Guys that are in that group are really professionals with that. They do it well. That really isn’t my thing. I’m going to stick to shooting that ball, knocking shots down and getting it out of the bottom of the net.

Pitino at Gophers fan event: "The goal is to win a Big Ten title"

As Richard Pitino waited to grab the microphone at Monday’s Gophers Road Trip kickoff event at TCF Bank Stadium, he shook his head at one particular line during his introduction.

Mike Grimm, the voice of the Gophers, mentioned the basketball team having the biggest turnaround in the country last season. That drew cheers. Pitino smiled.

But fans were also told to put the 8-23 record a year ago in the rear-view mirror.

Once Pitino addressed the crowd, he made it clear he’s tired hearing about the eight-win season in 2016.

 “We’re not going to do 8-23 every stop,” Pitino said. “We’re going to have to work on that. It was a great year; we don’t have to talk about two years ago.”

Maybe not. The Gophers were a 24-win and NCAA tournament team in 2017. And the fifth-year Minnesota coach with a new contract believes his team can make an NCAA tournament run and win a Big Ten title.

In the months since his team’s disappointing loss to Middle Tennessee in the NCAA tournament first round in March, Pitino has been fairly quiet about his expectations for next season.

Meanwhile, the Gophers have been a consensus early top 25 projection for the 2017-18 season.

With summer practice a couple weeks away, Pitino finally shed light on how special he believes the upcoming season could be with nearly everyone returning and recruits adding more talent to the mix.

“Hopefully our guys are extremely hungry to get back into the NCAA tournament, to compete for a Big Ten title, to make a run in the NCAA tournament,” Pitino told fans. “The goal is obviously to win a Big Ten title. And I think our expectations are high. They should be high and we’re excited about that.”

Michigan State and Minnesota have arguably the most returning talent in the Big Ten. But Pitino said he needs to make sure his players know that doesn't guarantee any success.

"The expectations will be extremely high," he said. "We've got everybody back, which is exciting. But I've got to get our guys to understand, you're not going to be good because you've got everybody back. So that's something I'll work on a lot over the eight weeks that they're with us this summer."

Pitino and Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck headline a month-long coaches’ bus tour that starts Monday with stops in Winona and Rochester. Pitino is anxious to sell a bright future for his basketball program. So is Gophers athletics director Mark Coyle, who thinks the Gophers can be a team that makes a deep NCAA tournament run soon.

“I tell people you’ll not meet a more competitive person than Mark Coyle,” he said. “I wouldn’t have come to Minnesota if it can’t be done. There’s no reason why not. You look women’s volleyball making the Final Four. If they can do it, men’s basketball can do it.”

-- Pitino didn’t know until this weekend that his top recruit, Isaiah Washington, would not be able to join the team this week. Washington, a four-star point guard from St. Raymond in New York, just graduated Saturday. So he won’t arrive in Minnesota until when freshmen typically show up just before summer school June 10. The same goes for Louisville 7-foot senior transfer Matz Stockman, who will sit out the 2017-18 season.

But three-star Patrick School (N.J.) guard Jamir Harris graduated a week ago and is already on campus.

“Jamir is the only one that’s here,” Pitino said Monday. “But it’s always good to get him in the class or two, just get him acclimated. I kind of stay away from him; get with him for breakfast one day. But let them more get adjusted to the on-campus life more than anything. So they’re ready to go when we need them to be.”