Harris pays visit to alma mater

Photo by Dave Boyd
Del Harris graduated from Milligan in 1959

By Wes Holtsclaw
After spearheading a nationwide campaign to help raise money for academic purposes, Milligan College's most recognizable alumnus returned to his alma mater Thursday afternoon.
Legendary NBA coach, Del Harris, who is currently the Dallas Mavericks' defensive coordinator, came to town, accepting an appreciation gift from the Milligan alumni for serving as the National Chair for Milligan's Campaign for Christian Leadership.
The school attained a record-high giving participation in 2002-03, as more than 32 percent of Milligan alumni made a financial contribution to the college.
"This reflects a confidence and pride in the college among our alumni," said Milligan President Donald R. Jeanes.
Harris, a former coach of the Houston Rockets, Minnesota Timberwolves and Los Angeles Lakers, also spoke to the student body during their weekly chapel service and gave a coaches clinic to regional coaches in the Winston Auditorium.
"I'm glad to be put in a position where I can do some of these things, and I'm willing to do that," Harris said of his work with Milligan College. "I'm impressed with the growth and the way they've upgraded over the years academically and athletically."
"(Milligan's) a base from which to build upon then you call upon things throughout your life," he said. "And you can call upon a lot of things professionally and personally."
Harris continues his run assisting Don Nelson with the Mavericks next week as they begin practice for the upcoming NBA season. It is the second time he has assisted his friend during an illustrious career.
"We've had a really good run," he said of the Dallas-based franchise. "We've been 186-81 since I've been there and we've won with good guys. We won 60 games last year in a very tough Western Conference."
Aside from Nelson, who he's coached with previously, Harris works under the NBA's most controversial owner, Mark Cuban.
"An owner can't do it by himself and the coaches and players can't do it without a solid owner," said Harris. "Fortunately, we have all of those things at Dallas. Mark's caused the league to think a little bit. It's always good to have a thorn in the side. Overall, he's been good for the NBA."
Harris was the 20th coach in NBA history to record over 500 wins with his term as coach of the Los Angeles Lakers in the late-90s. He compiled a 556-457 record with three different teams and won over 400 games in the last eight full seasons.
He also won the 1994-95 NBA Coach of the Year award with the franchise after a season in which he recorded the fourth-largest single-season improvement in franchise history.
He has also coached many of the NBA's greatest players of all-time.
"I've coached some of the great names, but also lesser names and guys who were really good team players," he said. "It's unfair not to list them."
"In Houston, we had Moses Malone and Calvin Murphy, who made the Hall of Fame; Rudy Tomjanovich, who will; and Mike Dunleavy, who still has a chance as a coach," Harris continued. "In Milwaukee, Sidney Moncrief, who was a great leader, Jack Sikma and Bob Lanier. There were also a lot of fellows who were really solid guys, Paul Pressey, Jay Humphries, Ricky Pierce who is a great competitor.
"In LA, I had Kobe (Bryant), Shaq (O'Neal) and Magic (Johnson). Byron Scott, Derek Fisher and Rick Fox were delightful to coach and then at Dallas I can almost name the whole team. (Dirk) Nowitski and (Steve) Finley are leaders, and it was great to be associated with Avery Johnson."
This year, with the Lakers addition of Karl Malone and Gary Payton, Harris thinks they may not have their automatic championship as many people allude.
"Their top five is strong, but the best five don't make the best team and the best team don't necessarily win the game," he said. "Neither Malone or Payton has the need to add individual achievements. And they've had some disastrous things that could go against them at this point."
Having been Kobe Bryant's first NBA coach as he entered the league out of high school, Harris believes it's just safe to let the legal system work in the case of the year.
"I've chosen not to talk about those things at this point," he said. "I had a good experience with Kobe and saw the genius in him at a young age. We just have to let the legal system run its course."
When you speak of Kobe, Cleveland Cavaliers rookie phenom LeBron James' name is mentioned because of the pressure on his future with comparisons to mighty big names.
"The different from LeBron to Cleveland and Magic or Bird to their teams is that they came to teams that were highly competitive immediately, and faced each other in the championship finals," said Harris.
"Cleveland will not win it, but he's had an impact taking a shaky franchise and making it valuable and that's a good thing. Both he and Kobe came out of high school. He will impact that team right away."
When many head coaching spots became available this past season, Harris' name was among many mentioned among many jobs. He has other activities and projects that kept him in the Dallas area and from another NBA position.
"I probably will not be a head coach again," he said. "I could've gone to other teams, but I doubt I will do it. Nelly and I signed a three-year contract and we've spent nine years together with two different teams, and we've struck a relationship at this point.
"Maybe small college or high school ball in the Dallas area for the future. But I'm open to what could happen assuming my health holds up. We're involved in various church activities and programs there. It will keep me busy in a meaningful way."