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The NBA’s Gary Harris: First Year NBA Experience, Advice for Athletes and Parents

Dr. Mark: Tell us about your first year in the NBA.

Mr. Harris: It was tough. When you enter the NBA, and you have always been the best high school, college, and AAU player on a team, you expect to have similar results. For me, that was not the case. I was inactive for the first 7 games and had to sit on the bench in a suit. That was something I had never experienced in my basketball career. Then, when I finally did get the chance to play, it was not a lot of minutes. We had several veterans on the team who played my position, so my minutes were very small. Around the All Star break, some veteran players were traded, so I saw more minutes but not a dramatic increase. I finally did get a chance to start the last two games of the season, and I played well.

Dr. Mark: Can you tell us about the emotional side of your experience?

Mr. Harris: You go through many emotions. There was some uncertainty surrounding my game. Not from management or coaches, but personally. I knew I could play, and I put in the work and continued to put in the work. But when you’re worried or unsure if you’re going to play in a game, then worried about making a mistake or messing things up as well as trying to play perfect for the small amount of time you’re on the court, that brings up all types of personal questions.

But I believe in putting God and family first and then basketball. Also, people around me kept telling me to be patient and that I was a rookie, but I wanted to play because I knew I could play. I started to just focus on playing as hard and smart as I could, and that emotional uncertainty faded.

Dr. Mark: Complete this sentence: Parents and Athletes…

Mr. Harris: Have to put everything in perspective. They have to have that balance, and the earlier the better. For me, it was football. Early on I played basketball and football, and it wasn’t until my freshman year of college that I focused full-time on basketball. I knew basketball was the sport I wanted to excel in. I wanted to get better; plus, I had one of the best trainers in a guy named Christopher Thomas (CT) who really worked with me.

Dr. Mark: You worked with a basketball skills trainer. Do basketball players need a skills trainer?

Mr. Harris: I think so, because you have so much to learn about the game and what is needed to become a good player. Apart from basketball skills training, I enjoyed my relationship with CT. He pushed me to become better. If players are serious about improving, they have to be pushed to their limits and keep building. Having a trainer builds confidence, which is a huge part of becoming a good player. I understand everyone can’t have a CT as a trainer, but finding a really good trainer that actually knows what they are doing is really important.

Dr. Mark: My son, Nathan, is 15, plays HS and AAU basketball. What message can you give to him and his peers?

Mr. Harris: School, first and foremost—you have to get the grades if you want to have an opportunity to play college basketball. The short amount of time you are in high school should be enjoyable, and if you desire to move on to the next level, the foundation you set regarding academics will pay off in college. If you get recruited, take your time. Don’t take the first offer that comes your way unless that is an offer you really want. Selecting a college has to be the right fit for everyone. Finally, don’t grow up too fast. A lot of kids—especially athletes—want success now, and need to realize success takes hard work and patience. Above all else, have fun, and never take it for granted.

Dr. Mark: What is the Gary Harris Brand?

Mr. Harris: I am in the process of defining that now, and at the moment it is centered around God and family first, and then basketball. I have an AAU team that I am involved with. This gives me an opportunity to give something back to young athletes who are trying to go down the same road as I have. I want to share my experiences with them, so they can hopefully have the same or similar opportunities. In time, I plan to expand my brand to other specific areas, but for now, my focus is on assisting young athletes in their overall development and continuing to work hard toward establishing myself in the NBA.

 

This interview was made possible by Jay Keys

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Greg Taylor, Senior VP Of Player Development For The NBA

Greg Taylor, the Senior Vice President of Player Development for the National Basketball Association, gives PPD Mag an interview on Personal Player Development at the NBA level and the future of the programs and services offered to the pros.

Dr. Mark: How important is PPD to the athlete?

Mr. Taylor: I think Player Development is essential to the athlete. As we commit to developing the whole person; both the athlete and the non-athlete, Player Development and our commitment to respond to as well as support the players needs and challenges they face off the court is a really critical piece.

What we’re excited about is developing strategies to respond to the social and emotional development of our players. I would say it’s absolutely essential. I would also say that a player that is effective at managing their entire life and all the issues and challenges that effect them off the court, is also a better player on the court.

Dr. Mark: What role do family members of athletes play in PPD?

Mr. Taylor: We know that family support is critical for the player, whether it’s their parent, caregiver, significant other or friends. We know that the family role is critical and that the family often has the greatest influence over the player and when the player has down time or is going through a challenge, they will reach out to family members simply because they are trusted and familiar.

One of the reasons why the NBA is committed to Player Development that is responsive and inclusive of family members is because we are trying to build a strong safety net for those players to have informed members of the family. – Greg Taylor
One of our primary roles during the draft is engaging and educating family members on what that player was going through during such a heavy time.

Dr. Mark: At what age do you think PPD programs should be introduced to athletes?

Mr. Taylor: That’s a really good question. Conventional wisdom is whenever you’re trying to help a young person learn, the earlier the better and in this case I call players young people. The NBA’s perspective is to engage players when they first enter the league as rookies. We try and have signature programs throughout their playing career, all the way through transition and into retirement.

Dr. Mark: What specific PPD programs does the NBA offer?

Mr. Taylor: There is a range of programs we offer. We have an under-20 program for the players that are being drafted and recruited earlier and while they have tremendous basketball ability, they are also young men who need support to grow into responsible adulthood.

We offer programs around Rookie transition, which is one of our most well-known signature programs. It’s a three and a half day program where we really want to ensure all of the players understand what it means to be a successful professional athlete. You’re entering into a business, so we discuss how do you keep your body well tuned, how do you make good decisions, how do you handle the financial obligations and responsibilities, so all of those challenges are in our rookie transition program.

We also offer players affected by their poor choices a range of programs that are meant to really give them good sound advice, good information, a support network that is confidential and our substance-abuse program, which is one we’re really, really proud of and think is quite effective. So, there is a broad range. I think the headline I would want you to focus on is, we know that the players have a broad range of issues and what we have tried to do is put together programs that help solidify them and make sure they have a strong network they can reach out to and accurate information to help them make good choices as a result, and that’s the kind of platform of programs we offer NBA players.

Dr. Mark: What is the structure of the NBA Player Development division, at the league level, as well as the team level?

Mr. Taylor: We have a tremendous team here at the NBA office, just a wonderful team with decades of experience working with professional athletes. The way we’re structured now, is I am the Senior Vice President of Player Development and there are four Vice Presidents. Three of the VP’s are assigned 8 teams, while the other VP has 6 teams plus the D-league. It is our notion that each of the VP’s work to develop day to day to relationships and be responsive to the Player Development needs at the team level.

Each of the 30 teams has a Team Player Development Director (TPD’s) and we work very closely with them. We view ourselves as having an internal team and also external partners at the team level, that are all committed to making sure that Player Development is implemented in the strongest way possible, that we’re all on the same page and really, when the day is done, fundamentally committed to the player.

Dr. Mark: Does the NBA have specific modules that each team introduces throughout the year, so that they are all on the same page regarding player development?

Mr. Taylor: It’s currently a hybrid and one of the areas that we want to strengthen. We want to develop the programs that Player Development implement across the league to ensure they really are curriculum-based.

Right now, we certainly have best-practices and strong research and documentation behind all that we do, but we have to do a better job of ensuring that there is a curriculum that names what Player Development is, that really talks about outcomes and really pushes us towards a result that we are all excited about accomplishing. So the curriculum is a piece that as a league, we are working on as we move forward.

I think what the Team Player Development Directors do is driven by the team needs. One of the things that is really exciting about the team Player Development role is they are with the team and players each and every day and are in a position where they are naming and laying out what that direction and interaction looks like. We work very closely and in partnership with the TPD’s from the league perspective. There are some content areas like family demands and relationships, financial management, cultural diversity and inclusion, personal security and social media that we want to cover as effectively as possible and we push that information out to the teams in each of those areas.

Dr. Mark: In four years, what will success look like in your position?

Mr. Taylor: A couple of things would be to grow the number of players who have mastery over the challenges that they face, players who are effectively managing their financial resources and have players who are in healthy and strong relationships, both personal and professional.

We certainly want to be able to grow the number of players who are thinking about and preparing for life after basketball. There’s no question from that perspective, those would be indicators of success.

I think from an internal league perspective success is that curriculum I talked about, can that be developed and refined in a way that maximize player input, that we can create and document a way of doing this work that really has a profound impact on the lives of our players. And when the day is done, I hope Player Development will continue to be viewed as an absolute integral part of the business, recognizing that a player who is clear of mind, physically ready to go, has supportive relationships, has made good decisions financially and otherwise is just fundamentally a better player because they have balanced basketball and life challenges.