I was a little bit lucky. The year I moved to Long Beach was the year that Long Beach State may have had its best basketball team ever. And, since I didnâ€™t know many people and I had plenty of free nights, I went to a lot of basketball games that year. And that 92-93 team grew on me like few others have.
They were led by Lucious Harris, who not-so-coincidentally gets his number retired by Long Beach State Saturday night.
Most of you probably remember Harris from his recent NBA play, where he was a key guy off the bench for the Nets when they went to the NBA Finals a few years back. I remember Harris as the skinny and lightning quick kid who seemed unstoppable his senior season â€” he averaged 23.1 points per game shooting 60.2% (eFG%) and 41% from beyond the arc.
I talked with his old Long Beach coach this week, Seth Greenberg (now at #16 Virginia Tech) and he said they tried to use Harrisâ€™ quickness off the dribble by setting up a lot of isolation plays for him. But they also ran him off a lot of picks and down screens, trying to get him room for that quick jump-shot release (much like UCLA this year runs screens for Aaron Afflalo). It worked because Harris was such a smart player, even at that young age he seemed able to find the seams and holes in a defense that gave him room to get off shots (a knack he brought to the NBA).
What I remember is you could count on Harris, but it worked because that team had some balance, with Bryon Russell playing the role of the strong guard who got posted up more and used his strength to get off his shots.
What I didnâ€™t know then was how much easier the work ethic of those two, trying to out do one another in practice, made Greenbergâ€™s job easier.
â€œWhen youâ€™re two best players are your best practice players, you can do a lot,â€ Greenberg said,
Lucious Harris saved his best play for the Big West Tournament that season, where he was named the MVP and led the 49ers to the title. It was all good enough to get the 49ers and 11 seed in the NCAA tournament that year, but they faced a strong Illinois team and lost in the first round 75-72.
Harris was the first pick of the second round of the NBA draft that year, taken by the Dallas Mavericks. He played a dozen years in the NBA.
I learned a lot â€” and had a lot of fun â€” watching Lucious Harris and those Seth Greenberg-coached teams. When I saw he was getting his number retired, well, it just reminded my how much fun basketball can be.