Maurice Harkless , a South Jamaica native, plays for the Portland Trail Blazers and played basketball for Forest Hills High School and St. John’s University. Photo Courtesy Portland Trail Blazers
By David Russell
Portland’s 116-104 win over the Nets at the Barclays Center meant a little more to Blazers forward Maurice Harkless, who played at Forest Hills High School and St. John’s.
“This is where I’m from, it’s where I grew up,” said Harkless after Friday night’s game. “I love this city, so being able to come here and seeing my family and just playing in front of people I grew up in front of, it’s always special.”
The 6’8’’ Harkless developed playing on the streets and gyms of New York City. “It influenced me a lot. It’s pretty much all I did. It helped me develop that toughness, that grit and all of that stuff you need out there. If you can make it from here you can make it anywhere. It’s cliché but it’s the jungle.”
Harkless was a fan of the Knicks and the guard that led New York to the 1999 NBA Finals. “I really liked Allan Houston growing up. I spent some time with him which was pretty cool.”
As a sophomore in high school, Harkless was on the Forest Hills team that upset Cardozo in overtime for the 2009 PSAL Queens borough championship. “Mo is a great character kid, very respectful,” said Ben Chobhaphand, Harkless’ high school coach and now the head coach at LaGuardia Community College. “It wasn’t hard coaching him.”
Harkless transferred from Forest Hills to South Kent Prep in Connecticut where he played as a senior. He had already committed to UConn but fortunately for St. John’s, Harkless decommitted from the school.
Steve Lavin first saw Harkless in June 2010 at a skills camp that was held on campus at St. John’s. “It was immediately evident that he played the game with a certain grace, ease and fluidity that was unique for a player his size,” said Lavin, the Red Storm coach from 2010-15. “I recall coming away from our initial conversation being impressed Mo’s mature bearing and temperament. He was definitely a gentleman and had a regal presence that stood out when compared to the vast majority of 17 or 18-year-old prospects I had recruited.”
Harkless committed to St. John’s in August 2011 and was part of a team that went 13-19 in his freshman year. After being named Big East Rookie of the Year, Harkless declared for the NBA Draft.
“Everything happens for a reason, but I admit to daydreaming about the possibilities had he returned for his sophomore season,” Lavin said. “Had Mo chosen to return for his sophomore season he would have been a preseason All-American candidate. The possibilities for achievement tantalizing yet he had an opportunity to realize his dream of playing in the NBA. Who can fault him for seizing the moment?”
He was selected with the 15th pick by the Philadelphia 76ers but was traded to the Orlando Magic before ever playing in the City of Brotherly Love. After three seasons in Orlando, Harkless was traded to Portland.
“New York, Orlando and Portland are three completely different cities but I think I adjusted well and I like it out there, so it’s cool,” Harkless said.