Buckeye forward Ivan Harris first set foot on the campus of The Ohio State University before he even took his first steps.
The Ohio State freshman was brought into the world at The Ohio State University Medical Center. Nineteen years later, Harris has returned to Columbus to continue his basketball career under men’s basketball head coach Jim O’Brien.
“I have always liked Ohio State and have always wanted to go to school here and be a true Buckeye,” Harris said. “I still wanted to go out to other schools and check out my options, but in the end I knew this was the right place for me.”
Harris is one of seven McDonald’s All-Americans to play for Ohio State and the first since 1992, joining Clark Kellogg (1979), Perry Carter (1987), Treg Lee (1987), Jim Jackson (1989) and Greg Simpson (1992).
It took 11 years before Harris played any kind of organized basketball. At the time, his family was living in Atlanta, Ga., where they had moved from Springfield, Ohio, when Harris was 9-years old. His first experience competing on a team was in a church youth league as a sixth-grader.
“I loved basketball from the beginning,” Harris said. “I just kept playing and got better and better each year.”
The Harris family moved back to Springfield when Harris was 13 – just when Harris was ready to play on the junior high team. Harris’ father, Michael Harris, remembers the moment in eighth grade when he realized his son had real potential as a basketball player.
“It was the championship game of a tournament and I was running the video camera,” Michael Harris said. “The team was down by one, then all of a sudden Ivan comes down the court and dunks it. I got so excited and I was jumping up and down, that I didn’t get his dunk on tape.
“The game was then tied with a few seconds left and the coach called a time out so he could set up a play to get to ball to Ivan. When they went back out there, Ivan got the ball but he was double-teamed in the paint. He passed the ball back out to one of his teammates, who made the winning shot and they won the game. I realized then that he was a true team player and it didn’t matter to him who scored. I think that’s when it really started. You bet I got it on tape.” Continuing his career in high school, Harris led Oak Hill Academy to a 34-4 record in his senior year, averaging 16 points and 10 rebounds. His squad finished fourth in the Final USA Today Super 25 national rankings and six of his Oak Hill teammates went on to sign letters of intent with NCAA Division I schools.
“In junior high, I embarrassed Ivan because I was cheering louder than the coach was yelling,” Michael Harris said. “So when he was in high school, I just sat back and watched him play ball.”
His high school achievements were not limited to Oak Hill alone. Additionally, Harris was one of five high school players from around the nation invited to a tryout by USA Basketball for roster spots on the 19-and-under USA Junior World Championship team and USA Pan American Games squad. After his junior year, he was invited to Colorado Springs, Colo., home of the United States Olympic Training Center, to play at the USA Basketball Youth Development Camp.
Furthermore, Harris played at the Adidas ABCD camp for two-consecutive summers in high school, where he was able to meet two his basketball idols.
“I met Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady at Continental Airlines Arena (home of the New Jersey Nets),” Harris said. “It was a lot of fun. My first year, the summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school, Kobe was there. He talked to us about how he first started.
“McGrady came the second year I was there. He said a lot of the same stuff, but it was still inspiring to a high school player. It was really neat to actually be there in person.”
“Ivan has been lucky because he has been able to take a lot of trips through basketball,” Michael Harris said. “He called me after he met Kobe and was so thrilled. He said he was hanging out like one of the guys. Then he said Tracy McGrady was one of the best players he had ever seen on the basketball court.”
While meeting Bryant and McGrady in person was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience for Harris, he still enjoys watching them play on television. In fact, one of his favorite hobbies is to relax by watching the NBA and college hoops on television.
“Watching the NBA is where I get a lot of my tips from,” Harris said. “It’s a good way to get some basic information, just by watching certain aspects. I sort of model myself after Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady. I like their games. They are very versatile. They can go inside and hit the jumper on the outside. I compare myself with them because I like to thrive on the same things they can do. I go inside and through my hook and I go outside and shoot the jumper. What I need to improve is my ball-handling skills. I’m not quite there yet but I’m getting better.”
One of Harris’ other hobbies is traveling, which he gets to do his fair share of at Ohio State. He has been to Panama City Beach, Fla., on vacation, but also played overseas for basketball in France, Germany, Italy and Switzerland, in addition to traveling across the nation with Ohio State.
“I was on a traveling all-star team my sophomore year,” Harris said. “Nick Dials was on my team – that’s when I first met him. Our first trip was to Germany. Little kids came up to us after the game and ask for our autographs. We were treated like big celebrities.”
“Team Ohio was a summer league team and that was the first time I met him,” Dials said. “Ivan was really easy to get along with and we definitely had a good time traveling. In Germany, we got to wonder around by ourselves and really got to explore a new area.”
When Harris found out his friend and former teammate was going be a teammate once again on the Ohio State men’s basketball team, he was eager to have a familiar face around.
“When he found out Nick was going to be on the team, he was really excited,” Michael Harris said. “He kept saying, ‘Nick has to be my roommate!'”
Now roommates in their freshman year at Ohio State, Harris and Dials are good friends who have respect for each other as teammates.
“He is a big, athletic guy with long arms,” Dials said of Harris. “I think he could be a very good player as a three-man (wing guard), even though he is used to playing the four (forward). He can step out and hit a jump shot.”
Besides traveling and watching the NBA on television, there is another favorite for Harris on the tube: the Sci-Fi Channel. Harris claims he gets a kick out of watching the Sci-Fi Channel because it is something unique compared to your basic network shows.
“I pretty much watch anything but my favorite show is Knight Rider,” Harris said. “It’s different from anything else on TV and I love that.”
His roommate, however, is not as big of a fan of the Sci-Fi Channel.
“Every time I come in and he has gone to class, the TV is always on channel 44 (the Sci-Fi Channel), Dials said. “I always change it. It’s not my thing.”
As winter quarter on campus is now in full swing for at Ohio State, Harris does not have any regrets about his decision to play for coach Jim O’Brien’s Buckeyes.
“It’s working out great,” Harris said. “My teammates are excellent guys. Some of them are characters. I get along with everybody. Coach O’Brien tells you how he wants it and how it is. So far I’m having a pretty good year.”
Harris admits there are some major differences between the high school and college level. As a high school player, he remembers the different steps he had to take as he got older each year.
“In my freshman year, I had to get stronger,” Harris said. “As the years go on you get bigger and have to get stronger and stronger. You have to change your game a little each year and the same is true when going from high school to college. The Big Ten is a very physical conference.”
When he is on the court wearing No. 3 for the Scarlet and Gray, Harris has some personal goals he carries with him every day in practice and when it comes time for a game, including one focal point: hustle.
“I’m just coming in here; this is a new program for me,” Harris said. “I just want to come out and play my game. My goal is to just go out there a hustle, rebound, block shots, to do whatever the coaches tell me to and contribute in any way I can.”
Throughout his basketball days, whether it is playing for his church youth league, high school or at Ohio State, Harris has always looked up to his dad as a role model and his biggest supporter.
“He has always pushed me,” Ivan Harris said. “He wants me to make it in the world. He has always been very supportive and I look up to him so much. He’s No. 1.”
Family is one thing that is very important to Harris and one way they have spent time together is through sports. Michael Harris was a football star in high school and Harris’ step-mom, Rochelle, was a top-notch basketball player.
“She stayed on him and gave him some pointers,” Michael Harris said.
Harris also is paving the way for his two younger brothers, Benjamin (5) and Peyton (4) in addition to being a student-athlete at Ohio State. The youngest members of the Harris family have already had some experience with the game of basketball and are currently playing in an organized youth league through the YMCA.
“They love every bit of it,” Michael Harris said of his young sons. “They will talk to Ivan about the game and how much they want to be like him. They always ask him questions about basketball and they love going to watch him play.”