June 27, 2013

By Jeff White (jwhite@virginia.edu)

CHARLOTTESVILLE — Wednesday afternoon found All-ACC guard Joe Harris in the men’s practice gym at John Paul Jones Arena, tossing up shots with his teammates for several minutes.

Then the pickup game began, and Harris’ role changed. His left foot in a protective boot, he followed the action from a seat on the sideline. No longer, though, did he feel like hurling a basketball against the wall in frustration.

“It happens,” Harris said of the injury that derailed his summer plans. “All part of the game.”

A 6-6 senior from Chelan, Wash., Harris expected to be in Colorado Springs, Colo., this week, trying out for the USA Basketball team that will compete at the World University Games in Kazan, Russia, next month. But a stress reaction in his left foot was diagnosed last week, and Harris had to withdraw from the team’s training camp.

“I was really upset when I first found out, because I was looking forward to having a chance to go and try out for that team,” Harris said.

Two other members of the UVa basketball family, sophomore center Mike Tobey and head coach Tony Bennett, are in Prague, Czech Republic, for the under-19 world championships. Tobey is one of the 12 players on the U.S. team, and Bennett is one of head coach Billy Donovan’s assistants.

“I really wanted a chance to do the same thing and have an opportunity to represent UVa and my country,” Harris said. “But it’s all good. I’ve come to grips with it now, and it’s better that it happened now [rather than later]. If I would have gone over there and made it worse and come back, I probably would have been out for quite a bit longer.”

Early last week, Harris said, his foot felt good. “Maybe a little bit of pinching now and then, but that’s about it. I thought it was kind of a normal thing.”

He experienced more pain during a pickup game in the middle of the week, though, and mentioned it to Ethan Saliba, UVa’s head athletic trainer. Harris was scheduled to fly to Colorado last Sunday, and “Ethan wanted to check and make sure everything was good before I left.”

Harris was one of several UVa players planning to drive to Washington, D.C., last Friday to scrimmage the U19 team. Senior Akil Mitchell and sophomores Justin Anderson and Malcolm Brogdon made the trip without Harris after examinations revealed the stress reaction in his foot.

Bennett called Harris from D.C. after getting the news.

“He was disappointed, just because he knew I was really training hard and getting ready and really wanted a chance at trying out for that team,” Harris said. “But he was happy that we were able to find it now and it wouldn’t be a problem some time in November.”

In a statement released Friday night, Bennett said Harris’ “senior season and future professional career are the main priorities moving forward. We’ll ensure he gets the proper rest and rehabilitation, so he’ll be ready for the 2013-14 season.”

The good news, Harris said, is that his injury should not require surgery. That wasn’t the case with the foot problems experienced by Brogdon and point guard Jontel Evans in 2012.

“We caught it at a pretty early stage,” Harris said.

UVa’s medical staff would like him to wear the protective foot about four weeks, Harris said. “Then we’ll take it off and I’ll walk around and do some training stuff with it, see how my foot feels, and if I even feel anything — it doesn’t even have to be painful — then I’ll stay in it a little while longer. And then do the same thing maybe two weeks after that.”

Under NCAA rules, the Cavaliers are allowed to practice two hours per week with the coaching staff while summer school is in session. While his teammates practice, Harris will work on a stationary bike and on honing some of basketball skills.

“Yesterday I biked like 12 miles in 30 minutes,” he said. “I can still lift [weights]. I do all the lifting stuff. And then basketball-wise, I’ll do spot-shooting and do some ballhandling in place before I can actually start moving.”

A broken left hand marred the right-handed Harris’ sophomore season, but he was the Wahoos’ second-leading scorer (11.3 ppg), behind All-ACC forward Mike Scott. As a junior, Harris led the `Hoos in scoring (16.3 ppg) and established himself as one of the college game’s most dangerous outside shooters.

In UVa’s 73-68 upset of No. 3 Duke at JPJ, Harris hit 12 of 20 attempts from the floor and 10 of 12 from the line and finished with a career-best 36 points.

Had Harris made the World University Games team, he would have dropped the class he’s been taking during UVa’s second session of summer school. The injury means he’ll be able to complete that class and then take another during the third session of summer school.

“Which is actually good,” Harris said. “Now I can stay and get six credits and take an easier load during the school year.”

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