Sixers' top pick Maurice "Moe" Harkless will be forced to grow up fast

Harkless comes to Philly with an impressive resume: The 6-9, Big East Rookie of the Year averaged 15.5 points and 8.6 rebounds as a St. John's freshman. ASSOCIATED PRESS
Harkless comes to Philly with an impressive resume: The 6-9, Big East Rookie of the Year averaged 15.5 points and 8.6 rebounds as a St. John's freshman. ASSOCIATED PRESS
Posted: July 01, 2012

This time last year, Moe Harkless was busy attending various parties, celebrating his high school graduation, hanging out with friends, playing some basketball at the playgrounds, thinking about going off to college.

What a difference a year makes. After being selected by the Sixers Thursday night with the 15th pick, Harkless is now ready to take on a profession, one that will pay him handsomely — and that very well might be the only job he'll ever have to have. He'll have to become a man probably sooner than desired, certainly quicker than his mom envisioned. "He still calls me mommy," Rosa Harkless said of her middle child. "He's going to be out there on the basketball court now with all these big, big guys every night and he still calls me mommy. That just makes me smile because that's who he is. He is a very mature person, he's very articulate and respectful, but in many ways he's still a child. He's my child. He's my baby."

While Rosa spoke, her youngest child, Tyler, 6, playfully tossed his Sixers cap in the air. Tyler made fun of his brother as he was getting his picture taken and answering questions and basically just being in demand. When they could get a moment alone, the two would laugh and slap hands and fool around, like brothers do. Like young brothers do.

Harkless didn't even start to play organized basketball until he was in high school, competing only at the junior-varsity level then. But the goal he had set in his head, even back then, was set. His path went in only one direction — straight to the best basketball league in the world.

That goal became a real possibility during his only season at St. John's, where Harkless was named the Big East Rookie of the Year after posting averages of 15.5 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 1.4 blocks. Much of the time the 6-9, 208-pounder was playing the power forward position, a spot the Sixers eventually see him growing into at the NBA level, once his body matures and he puts on weight and perhaps adds another inch or two.

"I see myself on the wing, but whatever it takes, or whatever coach [Doug] Collins asks me to do," Harkless said. "I'm just excited to be here. In college I was just really focused on doing whatever the team needed me to do. I wasn't complaining or anything, I was just doing what I had to do. I was playing against a lot of guys who were about 60 pounds heavier than me. But that was OK. Whatever they needed me to do."

At first glance, his role with the Sixers might seem to be a little clouded as they have multiple players on the roster like Harkless — Thaddeus Young, Andre Iguodala, Evan Turner. But Collins doesn't see it that way. In Harkless, he sees that his team got the player they had targeted. Then they went and added the one they had pegged right behind him in power forward Arnett Moultrie, a junior from Mississippi State. The Sixers got Moultie in a trade with Miami, which drafted him with the 27th pick.

"We were thrilled. We had Maurice targeted as our No. 1 guy at 15, and if he had not been there we were going to take Arnett," said Collins. "They were our one and two guys. Getting Maurice, we're thrilled about that. Our scouts and everybody worked so hard, and then as the draft was going on we were so excited. Maurice is 19 years old. We think he has a tremendous future. When you watch Maurice, and we watched him a lot, he just didn't shoot the ball a lot outside. His shot's not broken and that's the one thing you look at when you're looking if a guy's going to be able to make shots. We feel very strongly he's going to be able to make shots.

“When you make that playoff run like we did, we want more. And nobody wants more quicker than I do. I think somebody wrote that I don't even like to wait for microwave popcorn. I want us to be better, too. The beauty of it is there's nothing like competition. When you look at our team last year, once we moved Evan into the starting lineup, we didn't have another wing. So Maurice is that guy who we think is going to be that bigger wing. So now, coming off the bench, we now feel we have a guy that can do that."

The concern surrounding Harkless was that his outside shooting was suspect ... and that when he shot from farther out, it was just bad (17-for-49, or 21.5 percent from three-point range). But part of that was due to the fact that he was playing inside so much. Outside shooting wasn't something the team needed, or asked him to do.

Harkless himself has no worries that his shot will improve; that he will become the type of player Collins and the Sixers' front office envision him becoming. Hell, at 19, he probably doesn't even know any better. But Rosa Harkless can rest easy knowing that he has a coach like Collins who is all about growing young players into good young men.

"Once you become an NBA player, you have a lot of free time," said Collins. "The real key is managing that in a very positive way. If a young man doesn't make it here, I put the blame on him because I think all the resources are here to be successful. We have assistant coaches who work very hard. They're passionate, they understand all that goes with being an NBA player. We try to help them along to become better men, too. If you do that, then I think you become better players. We have players who will put their arms around these young guys. These young guys are so much more worldly than I have ever thought that I would have been. The places they've been, the places they've played, the pressure, the conferences, the TV, the media responsibility is so far greater. So they come to us with a much better base. It's up to us every single day to put them in a position to grow."

As people talked with and about her son, Rosa Harkless took it all in, with a hint of tears in both eyes. It had been a surreal couple of days, and reality was starting to set in. Her baby is going to start his profession soon, which will take him all over the world, far away from the home they shared in the Jamaica section of Queens, N.Y. And it will change her life, too.

"I think the reality hit me when they called his name [Thursday]," Rosa said. "During the whole process, people would congratulate us but nothing had really happened yet so I just kind of ignored it. I'm thinking, ‘I'm still going to work, I'm still doing what I have to do.' But then when they called his name, I think I cried from the time they called him with the 15th pick until the 23rd pick was called. One lady who works for the NBA told me she was going to help get us an endorsement for tissues because we need it.

“I'm a waitress and a bartender. He told me that whenever I'm ready to stop, just stop. But I still have bills to pay, and he told me, ‘When you're ready to stop, stop.' But I told him I still need my own spending money and stuff and he said, ‘I can't be in the NBA and have my mom serving drinks and waiting on tables.' "

No, not his mommy.

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