Ex-St. John's star Maurice Harkless finally gets Knicks' chance


Maurice Harkless was designed by the St. Johns in the 76s. He spent three seasons in Orlando, four in Portland, and was then sold to the Clippers in July.

Even after so many years of not being at home, the Queen-born always believed he would get the opportunity to represent his city.

"We always talked about it. It was always the endgame, ”said Nate Blue, a longtime family counselor and former youth coach at Harkless. "Even if you play for a city you are playing for, you always have the dream of coming back one day and playing for the Knicks.

"It's not even like a dream comes true. It's more of a fate than if it always happened."

As part of the package purchased for Marcus Morris, Harkless has the option to call Madison Square Garden back home for the first time since leaving St. Johns in 2012 after its first season. Blue spoke to Harkless after the deal and expressed his excitement.

"He has a million people here who want to see him play," said Blue.

Harkless grew up in a close family in southern Jamaica, with a single mother, Rosa, who had two jobs and didn't start playing basketball until she was 13. However, he quickly developed his game in Liberty Park on 172nd Street. Harkless was a Knicks fan who also loved Kobe Bryant, and he recently switched his number from 8 to 11 with the Clippers.

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Maurice Harkless drives into the basket for St. John's during a game in 2012.Byron Smith

Harkless attended Forest Hills High School until his senior year when he switched to South Kent (Conn.) School. At the heart of Steve Lavin's best recruiting class, the 6-foot 9 striker became the Big East Rookie of the Year and the rare and successful St. John’s star, the only player on the program since Omar Cook in 2001 left prematurely for the NBA draft.

Harkless was ranked 15th overall in the 76s in 2012 and traded in a blockbuster deal with multiple teams less than two months later. Harkless started 59 games as a rookie with the Magic, but saw his playing time decrease over the next two seasons. He was traded on Trail Blazers in 2015, received a four-year deal for $ 40 million a year later, and then hit a career high of 10 points and 4.4 rebounds.

Harkless offered a versatile defensive presence and was a starter during the four direct postseason trips in Portland, but was delivered to the Clippers in July as part of a four-team deal. There, the 26-year-old started 38 of 50 games with an average of 5.5 points, four rebounds and theft, shooting 51 percent from the field and 37 percent with 3-pointers.

Despite retiring from one of the best teams in the league, according to Harkless, Blue is looking forward to the challenge of changing his childhood team.

"He wants to be part of it and help them put something together," said Blue. "He wants to win. He's not about himself. It's a role that a lot of people don't want to play. Everyone can't be Kawhi Leonard or Paul George. You have to fit in. He has an attitude. He plays hard and expects that he wins. "

The New York area is not everything you know.

Harkless played under incumbent Knicks President Scott Perry in Orlando, where he was teammate with close friends and now with Knick Elfrid Payton. Harkless also shares an agent, Bill Duffy, with RJ Barrett.

Although Harkless will be a free agent at the end of the season, Blue believes he doesn't want to leave home anymore.

"It's an audition," said Blue. "He'll take full advantage of it."