“Sky’s the limit” for Siena basketball’s Gary Harris Jr. – Times Union

It’s not in the Halloween spirit, but Gary Harris Jr. hates masks.

At least the kind the high-flying Siena men’s basketball sophomore guard and his classmates must wear around campus during the coronavirus pandemic.

“It sucks,” Harris said with a laugh. “Yeah, I don’t prefer it.”

At the same time, Harris understands why it’s mandatory.

“We don’t want the program to get shut down, so we do everything the right way,” said Harris, who wore a green-and-gold covering with the Siena logo over his face.

“If you can just control your breathing, you don’t have a hard time,” Harris added. “Just take little slow, deep breaths and try not to pull it down. I don’t want to get in trouble. That’s about it.”

Siena fans can breathe easier if Harris realizes the potential he flashed as a freshman while helping Siena win 20 games and earn a Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference regular-season title.

He averaged 5.3 points per game and gave the Saints a jolt when he was inserted into the starting lineup at Niagara last Jan. 19. Though the Saints lost that game, they won 13 of their next 14, including their final 10 before the season was cut short by COVID-19.

When the students were sent home, Harris returned to Los Angeles and worked out with his trainer. He said he spent time improving his ballhandling and shooting – he was only 26.9 percent from 3-point range last season – and ran in the hills and streets around his neighborhood.

At 6-foot-7 and 200 pounds, Harris is listed on the roster an inch taller and seven pounds heavier than last season.

Since the Saints began practice earlier this month, senior guard/forward  Manny Camper said he notices greater maturity in Harris’ game.

“Gary’s doing great,” Camper said. “He’s growing, knowing his role. He’s not forcing anything, making the right pass. Now he’s at the point he’s driving, he’s making that extra pass, where as freshman year, he’d probably try to go up, get fouled draw contract and force things.”

Siena head coach Carmen Maciariello wouldn’t guarantee Harris, one of the three returning starters, will start this season alongside stars Jalen Pickett and Camper.

“It’s good to keep guys hungry and see the competition at every position,” Maciariello said. “You want to build a championship culture and build a lasting legacy and build a program.”

Harris said the Saints are in good position to accomplish what last year’s team never got the chance to – win a MAAC Tournament championship.

“I see that we’re a lot faster, a lot more athletic,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of skill. Our bench is really deep, a lot of guys. We’re going to be good.”

A key component is Harris, talented enough to be recruited by programs like Washington State and Kansas State out of high school and the heir apparent to all-conference players like Camper and Pickett.

“We just have to continue to groom him and allow him to grow,” Camper said. “The sky’s the limit for Gary.”

msingelais@timesunion.com • 518-454-5509 • @MarkSingelais

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