Ricky Harris, a former star at UMass, is making his first steps professionally in Europe. Harris, the third all-time leading scorer in UMass history, is trying to adapt to the completely different European basketball style. New place, new culture, but still it's all about the game.
Harris, who averaged 19.8 points, 2.9 assists and 3.5 rebounds during the 09-10 NCAA season, decided to begin his pro career in Lithuania, one of the best basketball countries in Europe. Harris signed a contract with Siauliai and quickly earned a spot in the starting five.
Despite having earned the trust of his coach, life in Europe has not been so easy for Harris. The 6'2" guard has played four games in the short Lithuanian league (LKL) season and is averaging 9.3 points, 1.5 assists and 3 rebounds in 21 minutes. However, Harris gets more playing time in the Baltic league (BBL), where he is averaging 12.7 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.2 assists in 27 minutes per game.
Nevertheless, the main competition and the biggest challenges are still ahead of Harris. Siauliai starts the Eurocup (Europe's second best tournament) season on Thursday, as they will play at home against Buducnost and where Harris will make his real debut on the European basketball scene.
RealGM talked with Harris about his decision to start his career in Lithuania, European hoops and the NBA dream, which is still alive.
RealGM: What was your most memorable moment during your career at UMass?
Harris: I have a few memories, but the ones that stick out the most was beating Syracuse twice in one year at the Carrier Dome both times and advancing to the championship game of the NIT at Madison Square Garden against Ohio State. Another memory would be my last game during my senior year when I hit the game winning shot against Rhode Island.
RealGM: You put up great numbers in college, but you didn't make it to the NBA. In your opinion, why this happened?
Harris: I'm not sure. In college I was more of a shooting guard. I didn't play point guard until my last season, so I think NBA scouts wanted to see me at the point guard position more. And being here in Europe, I have the chance to develop into a point guard and hopefully NBA scouts will see my improvement and I will be in the NBA one day.
RealGM: Why did you pick Lithuania as your first pro career stop?
Harris: I felt like Siauliai would be a great spot for me. We have a great coach and great teammates. We are also known for winning and the fact that we are a Eurocup team was a major plus for me as well. I feel like being here, I will learn a lot and develop into a better player.
RealGM: Did you get any other offers that interested you?
Harris: Siauliai was my first offer, but I was also getting close to an offer from VEF Riga.
RealGM: Could you evaluate your first months in Europe? Did it go as you expected?
Harris: My first couple of months in Europe has been great. The first month was difficult being that it was my first time in a different country and the time difference and all. But now I am adjusting well. As far as basketball, the competition is very good and I feel like I'm getting better everyday.
RealGM: What do you miss the most living outside the States?
Harris: I miss my family the most. Not being able to come home to my family after games or just spending time with them. I miss American food, but Lithuanian food is also very good.
RealGM: What do you like to do in your free time there?
Harris: In my free time I like to play video games and go to the mall, watch movies and relax, let my body rest.
RealGM: Your statistical numbers are down slightly this season. Is it because of less physical game there and maybe European basketball style?
Harris: It is very physical in Europe and I do have to get use to that. I feel like I'm still adjusting to the European style of play. But I feel like my numbers will increase and be a lot better.
RealGM: Could you name the biggest difference between college basketball and pro basketball in Europe?
Harris: I would have to say so far the pro game is a lot more physical and each possession counts. Those guys are not very athletic as far as running and jumping but they are very smart. They have very high basketball IQs. College games are not as physical and the players are more athletic.
RealGM: What is your goal in the Eurocup this season?
Harris: My goal in the Eurocup this season is to make it out of our group and advance. This is something that Siauliai has never done so that would be good if we advance. The individual statistics will come.
RealGM: Is your main goal in future, to enter to the NBA?
Harris: Yes, I do want to play in the NBA eventually. That is my goal.
RealGM: Imagine that you play in Europe for the whole your career. Would that be a failure for you?
Harris: No, not at all. I know many of guys, who are having great careers in Europe and making a great living over here. I would be blessed to have the opportunity to play basketball for a very long time.