Virginia guard Joe Harris is the only ACC player this season to rank in the top 10 in field goal shooting, 3-point percentage and free throw shooting. (Credit: Andrew Shurtleff/Daily Progress)
Playing basketball for his father at Chelan High School in north central Washington, Joe Harris learned the importance of doing more on the court than just making shots and scoring points.
Harris, now a junior guard at Virginia, leads the ACC this season in 3-point shooting (.464) and is the league’s fourth-leading scorer at 16.6 points per game. But he is known for more than just his offensive numbers by opposing coaches.
“People talk about Joe’s scoring and shooting, but what people tend to not talk about is Joe’s competitiveness,” Virginia Tech coach James Johnson said. “He is a tough, hard-nosed competitor. He plays with great speed, great pace, changes direction. He’s very smart, and he reads screens very well. He’s shooting the ball, scoring in a lot of different ways, posting up, getting to the offensive glass, shooting the 3, putting the ball on the floor. He’s a complete player.
“I don’t think he’s getting talked about enough for what he’s doing for that team and the type of year he’s having.”
Harris, who has accounted for more than 25 percent of his team’s points, is putting together a big season for the Cavaliers (19-8, 9-5 ACC). He is fourth in the league in 3-pointers made (2.4 per game) and fifth in field goal percentage (.497) going into Thursday’s game against No. 3 Duke (24-3, 11-3). Harris also averages 4.1 rebounds and 2.2 assists and is the only player in the league to rank in the top 10 in 3-point shooting, field goal percentage and free throw shooting (eighth at .771).
His numbers even more impressive in the ACC. Against league opponents, Harris is first in 3-point shooting (.462), second in scoring (18.1 ppg), third in field goal percentage (.518) and tied for fourth in 3s (2.6 per game). He has accounted for nearly 28 percent of Virginia’s scoring production in conference games.
The only player with a better scoring average than Harris in ACC play: National scoring leader Erick Green (25.3 ppg) of Virginia Tech.
Harris certainly has a fan in Virginia coach Tony Bennett, who played for his father, Dick Bennett, at Wisconsin-Green Bay.
“Of course he’s a threat when he’s moving and shooting the ball and all that, but he’s just rugged,” Bennett said of Harris. “He’s a competitor, and he’s willing to do whatever. If you say, ‘Joe, don’t shoot,’ he’ll do whatever. He just wants to win. He is a coach’s son and is really invested in trying to get Virginia basketball to the highest point it can get to and has a selfless mindset.”
Virginia coach Tony Bennett has one of the nation’s top shooters in junior guard Joe Harris. (Credit: UVa Media Relations)
With Harris leading the way, Virginia is tied for third in the league with North Carolina behind ACC leader Miami (23-4, 14-1) and Duke. He had 22 points in a Jan. 29 upset of then-No. 19 North Carolina State. The Cavaliers suffered a 93-81 loss to UNC on Feb. 16, but Harris poured in a career-high 27 points on 10-of-13 shooting while hitting 4-of-6 3s.
Add the 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting that Harris had in a Jan. 6 win over the Tar Heels, and UNC coach Roy Williams also has plenty of praise for the Virginia standout.
“I think Joe is one of the more efficient players in college basketball,” Williams said. “He scores, but he does it in taking very few shots. That’s why I call him very efficient. He doesn’t have to take 20 shots to get 20 points, and I think that efficiency fits very well with the way Tony likes his teams to play. He takes good shots, doesn’t take bad shots and he makes most of them at the same time. I think he’s better defensively than people give him credit for.
“But the bottom line: He can score and do it efficiently.”
Bennett added he’s been impressed with the improvement that Harris has made offensively, defensively and as a leader. Last season Harris averaged 11.3 points and shot 38 percent from 3, although he played the final month of the year with a fractured bone in his non-shooting hand for the NCAA tourney-bound Cavaliers.
In addition to his offensive production, Harris has helped Virginia hold opponents to 38.5 percent shooting this season. The Cavaliers are also fourth nationally in scoring defense (54 ppg).
“He’s made that big jump from his sophomore to his junior year,” Bennett said. “As I mentioned a couple of teleconferences ago, he’s a great encourager with his teammates. He’s not afraid to say things. He’s not going to grab them by the shirt and tell them like some guys lead, but he’s an encourager that still has a firm hand when he needs to.”
Virginia associate head coach Ritchie McKay took it a step further by recently saying that Harris was the “glue guy” for the Cavaliers.
“Joe Harris is the one player on our team that is irreplaceable,” McKay said. “A glue guy is someone that when he is off the floor things start coming apart. Joe repeatedly seems to come back into the game and put things back together.
“Whether it is a big rebound that he has to go out of his area to get, a loose ball that he dives to recover or a big shot that steadies the ship – Harris has been that guy for us the last 30 or so games.”
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