For some, change happens overnight. For Meadowbrook and University of Richmond graduate Justin Harper, he got to watch his life change on television.
Shortly after the Cleveland Cavaliers selected the 6’10’’, 230-pound forward as the 32nd overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft last week, Harper learned that the Orlando Magic had traded two future second round draft picks for him. He’d be headed to Orlando not as one of Mickey’s mousketeers but as a player with an excellent shot to make the team for the 2011-2012 NBA season.
“It was crazy,” said Harper. “I was thinking the end of the first round because those were the teams I worked out for. So I was a little nervous when the second round began, but then Cleveland called my name, and I was in shock, and then minutes later I was traded to Orlando.”
According to basketballreference.com, Harper became the first player from Chesterfield County Public Schools to be drafted by an NBA team and is the fourth player from the University of Richmond to be drafted – the first since 1992.
If he makes the team out of camp, Harper will be the third Spider in the league, behind Johnny Newman, who played parts of 17 years in the NBA with his best season coming in 1990 for Charlotte, and guard John Schweitz, who briefly played for Seattle and Denver in the mid-80s.
Orlando Magic general manager Otis Smith has been on the record complimenting Harper’s scoring ability and versatility, and former Meadowbrook basketball head coach John Gordon III couldn’t agree more.
“Justin is an efficient scorer,” said Gordon. “He can score you 20-25 points while taking only 10-15 shots; that’s something that NBA scouts value.”
Both his high school and college careers paralleled as Harper was a role player for both the Monarchs and Spiders until his junior season, truly blossoming in both respective senior seasons.
“A lot of people joke that I didn’t start Justin until he was a senior,” said Gordon. “He was our sixth man as a junior, and was part of the Meadowbrook team that made states in the 2005-2006 season.”
Harper also gained national exposure for his superb senior season at Richmond, a season in which his Spiders, under head coach Chris Mooney, advanced to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament, defeating Vanderbilt and Morehead State. Harper earned Atlantic-10 first team accolades, averaging nearly 18 points and 8 rebounds per contest.
The lengthy forward was also an assassin from behind the arc for the Spiders, connecting on 45 percent of his three-point attempts, a trait that easily stretches opposing defenses. Richmond’s team performance was the best tournament run in school history. The Spiders are also remembered as the first No. 15 seed to defeat a No. 2 seed in the tournament, as they accomplished that feat in 1991, defeating Syracuse.
“Just participating in the tournament and advancing that far was quite a run,” said Harper. “It was a testament to our team and how well we played for and with each other.”
Harper grew up in Chester, and parents Ollie and Linda Harper still reside in the county. He graduated from Meadowbrook in 2007 and Richmond in 2011 with a marketing degree.
“It was great growing up in this area, to be a basketball player and a young kid,” said Harper. “It’s a great community to grow up in; it really helped to shape me into who I am today.”
At Meadowbrook, his coaches remember him as not only a great basketball player; he was also quite good with a saxophone in Meadowbrook’s band.
“Justin was great on the sax,” said Gordon. “But band uniforms aren’t designed for 6’7’’ kids.”
Harper was flown out to Orlando, and this week he will have his first official press conference and meet his teammates for the first time. Among those teammates will be the behemoth Dwight Howard, a perennial NBA All-Star.
“It’s crazy to think about what’s happened these past few days,” said a yawning Harper. “It feels good, but it’s a lot to take in.”
Gordon speculates Harper’s main roster competition will be Ryan Anderson, Brandon Bass, and Earl Henry, who were all reserve forwards for the Magic last season. Comparisons have been drawn between Anderson and Harper, but those comparisons give the nod to Harper on offense.
“I’m ready to put the work in,” said Harper, who describes himself as a workaholic on his twitter page, @Tru_Harp32.