For any passionate basketball fan, meeting an NBA star would be a dream come true, and playing them one-on-one would be a fantasy. For Tori Harris, that’s called Friday afternoon.
The JMU women’s basketball sophomore guard is the youngest of six in a family of basketball fanatics, including Tobias Harris — an eight-year NBA veteran who starts on the Philadelphia 76ers. Tori said the two worked out all summer and confirmed with a laugh that Tobias usually beat her in their weekly matches as the two pushed each other to improve their games.
“He watches [my games], he tells me to always be ready to shoot,” Tori said. “[He] might just say, ‘You just gotta be patient, because one day you might be the person that’s in the game in [crunch time].’”
After Tori went 2-for-3 from behind the arc as JMU toppled Liberty 74-53 on Nov. 29, Tobias gave his “baby sister” a shoutout to more than 100,000 followers. Throughout their respective seasons, Tori said the two keep in touch daily by talking on the phone and texting in their family group chat, and lately, there’s been no shortage of news.
Tobias’ first season with the Los Angeles Clippers has led to career highs in points (20.7 per game) and rebounds (7.8 per game) through Tuesday, but the family found out Jan. 31 that he’d be watching this year’s NBA All-Star game from his couch. Less than a week later, Tobias learned that his couch — as well as his other belongings — would be moved from L.A. to Philadelphia in a six-player blockbuster trade. Now, he’ll be closer than ever to his parents in New York, sisters in Virginia and South Carolina and brothers in Washington, D.C. and North Carolina.
Tori recognizes the impact her family has had on her, as she said she got her love of basketball from her siblings. She said how her sister Tesia’s success at Delaware — where she earned third-team All-CAA honors — and Tobias’ scholarship to Tennessee motivated her to seriously pursue basketball. Family is a priority for Tori, as she said being close to her brother T.J., who lives in Washington, D.C., was a factor in her choosing JMU over Hofstra or Elon.
“I didn’t want to be so close to home, but I did want to be near at least somebody,” Tori said. “I loved the coaches, and the girls on the team were super nice to me on the visit.”
Described by head coach Sean O’Regan as the “baby of the family,” Tori came to college trying to find her role on the team. She admitted she played “a little fast sometimes” and was anxious to pass instead of slowing down and letting the game come to her.
“From the beginning, she was very timid,” senior guard Logan Reynolds said. “I remember having a distinct conversation with her and saying, ‘If you do not choose your own role, someone else will.’ I think that kind of planted a seed in her head, and she’s totally evolved since that early conversation.”
This season, Tori has seen her playing time nearly double, from 6.2 minutes a game to 12.1, with significant increases in field-goal percentage and 3-point percentage, where she’s third on the team among those with at least 10 attempts. She’s getting twice as many rebounds per game and is “a sniper behind the 3-point line,” according to Reynolds.
Head coach Sean O’Regan said he regretted not playing Tori more in JMU’s first CAA loss of the season to UNCW on Jan. 18. He said the starters were fatigued in the fourth quarter, but he didn’t feel comfortable going to his bench so he opted to keep the starters in.
As Tori has focused on the little things, like offensive rebounding and playing help-side defense, she’s gradually working her way into the rotation as a valuable part of the second unit. Now, when JMU needs a spark off the bench, it’s likely Tori’s name will be one of the first called.
“I don’t see her role getting anything but bigger down the stretch,” O’Regan said. “We’re going to use our depth down the stretch to separate.”
Both Tori and Tobias’ teams have much to look forward to as their respective postseasons approach, as JMU is a favorite to win the CAA title while the 76ers have an increasingly likely chance to make a run at the NBA title. Tori told the Los Angeles Times she knew Tobias would be successful because of his work ethic, something that evidently runs in the family.
“She’s one that’s really tried to do everything we’ve asked her to do,” O’Regan said. “I’ve watched her grow — her understanding of what we’re trying to do defensively, her understanding of her role offensively. She comes to practice every day, ready to work. That’s why I think she’s got JMU in her blood.”
Tori may be the only Harris kid that bleeds purple and gold, but if not for the love of hoops she got from her siblings, she may have never picked up a basketball. Though she’s creating an identity for herself on one of the best mid-major teams in the nation, Tori Harris hasn’t forgotten her roots.
Contact James Faris at email@example.com. For more basketball coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.