Harris could fill hole at Lynx center spot

Amber Harris -Photo by Sophia Hantzes

The Minnesota Lynx, as expected, chose Maya Moore with this year’s top pick in the 2011 WNBA Draft in April. But what about Amber Harris, who the Lynx selected three picks later as the fourth overall pick?

Harris, an Indianapolis, Indiana native, once was considered the country’s number-one high school player by one hoops publication back in 2006. Watching the WNBA while growing up was a motivating factor in her development, she admits. “Growing up seeing all those great players made me just want to do it more, to have a heart and passion for it,” said Harris.

After being named Indiana’s Miss Basketball, Harris matriculated to Xavier, where she later became the school’s all-time blocked-shot leader, a two-time Atlantic 10 Player of the Year, and a four-time all-conference first teamer. She was a top-five WNBA prospect in this year’s draft.

“I’m really excited to be a Lynx,” she said at the April 12 introductory press conference at the team’s downtown Minneapolis arena, where both Harris and Moore met the local media.
While most of the media contingent stood in line fighting for quotes from the six-foot Moore, I was able to speak to Harris virtually uninterrupted. Asked if this focus on Moore bothered her, Harris said, “It’s fine. Maya is a great player. I don’t see myself in her shadow.”

The 6’-5” Harris, a 2011 Wooden Award finalist, missed the entire 2008-09 season due to an injury. Not playing that season helped her return to the court more mentally prepared, she recalled.

“It is hard to come back from an injury, so I had to really get in that mental state of mind of what I am trying to do and trying to accomplish,” said Harris. As a result, she returned without a drop-off in production, averaging 16 points and nearly nine rebounds a game.

Although she missed a year because of the aforementioned injury in 2008, Harris was eligible for the 2010 WNBA Draft because she had completed four years of college eligibility. However, she opted to play her fifth year.

“I was really trying to get to the Final Four,” she explained. “We got so close the year before, before losing in the Elite Eight, so if I came back, we’d have another opportunity.”
Harris averaged a double-double (18 points and 10 rebounds) in her final season, but unfortunately she and her Xavier teammates’ ultimate goal to reach the Final Four squads this spring again didn’t materialize.

“Winning four conference championships and being undefeated in the A-10 tournament is a great accomplishment and a great memory… It’s kind of hard to get that accomplishment, but I’m glad it worked out the way it did.”

Lynx Vice President Roger Griffith claimed that if Harris had been available last year, the team would have drafted her: “When she made that decision [to go back to school], we went ahead and traded [the 2010 third overall draft choice to Connecticut for 2011 first and second round selections],” he boasted. That trade gave them this year’s fourth pick.

But in reality, since Chicago took Gonzaga guard Courtney Vandersloot at number three Harris was there at number four. Therefore, Griffith shouldn’t claim so much credit for essentially being lucky.

“I had talked to the Chicago folks, so I was assuming that they were going to pick me,” Harris recalled, adding that when Minnesota chose her, “It was definitely a surprise.”

Although she is a natural power forward, Harris expects that she might end up at center, since Minnesota has a hole at the spot. Therefore, it is very conceivable that the Lynx’s opening-day starters could include two rookies: Harris at center and Moore at small forward, along with guards Lindsay Whalen and Seimone Augustus and power forward Rebekkah Brunson.

“It’s going to be a whole new world for Amber,” Minnesota Head Coach Cheryl Reeve pointed out. “I’ve got a pretty big playbook that I have to go through and see which ones are going to maximize the talents on this team.”

“I [can] post up, can take it off a drive, and can shoot the three. I think I can bring that inside and outside game [to the Lynx],” surmised Harris. She added that her mental game and understanding of how to be a good teammate will also be evident when she hits the floor for her first WNBA training camp, which starts Sunday. “I am a very competitive person.”
“I’m looking forward to that,” said Reeve.

Finally…

All 12 WNBA teams will be wearing new uniforms similar in design to the ones their NBA counterparts are wearing. The new on-court apparel is 30 percent lighter and dries twice as fast as previous WNBA uniforms to help keep athletes cooler, league officials claim.

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.