Harrell hosts first youth camp in Rocky Mount, has thoughts on NBA Finals, free agency

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Los Angeles Clippers forward and former North Edgecombe High School standout Montrezl Harrell holds his son Amari Harrell, 2, while speaking Saturday during his basketball camp at Rocky Mount High School.


Sports Writer

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Standing in the middle of the Rocky Mount High School gymnasium, all eyes were on Montrezl Harrell.

The Los Angeles Clippers forward and former North Edgecombe standout was surrounded by dozens of kids on Saturday that had spent the morning playing basketball at Harrell’s youth camp.

The NBA player’s travel plans were delayed and he missed the morning skills portion, but he showed up later on to speak with the kids, sign autographs and pose for pictures.

Every camper received a gift bag, a T-shirt and lunch, and others won prized in the form of a pair of shoes made possible by Harrell’s new sponsorship deal with And1.

“He’s a man of his word,” said Terrence Taylor, Harrell’s former AAU coach and current manager of the Montrezl Harrell Foundation in Rocky Mount. “He didn't want to miss this.”

And when Harrell held court with the kids, much of his message was about working hard and doing things the right way.

“I’m built off hard work and I try to instill that in the kids I talk to,” Harrell said. “Not every kid is going to go pro in a sport, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be a pro in the field that you choose. That’s what I was trying to preach to the kids. You have to have the mindset to go out, work for something, and take it.”

The camp was the first in the area for Harrell, who also does charitable work in L.A. He has a book club planned for schools in Edgecombe County, and his work with Microsoft aims to teach kids about the importance of school work and following through with plans.

Yet in Rocky Mount on Saturday, Harrell knew his role was simply to show up and be available to the kids. That's what Taylor did for him as a youth, and Harrell knows the impact of having a support system.

“Just coming back here is about giving back to the kids and just being around them,” Harrell said. “It started in college where I’m signing autographs after a game, you realize that a lot of kids just want to see an NBA player, or they want to shake their hand and talk to them. So for me, just being able to come out here and do that is what it's all about, really.”

Harrell, a candidate for the NBA’s sixth man of the year award announced on Monday, said that hard work has been the foundation of his life. And it shows on the court. The 25-year-old recently completed his fourth NBA season — and it was his best one yet.

He played a career-high 26.3 minutes per game and he took full advantage of the extra playing time by averaging 16.6 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game. He said that he is excited to work on his game this offseason in anticipation of a busy summer and 2019-20 season that comes with high expectations.

The NBA is a league that never seems to sleep, with the Toronto Raptors championship on June 13 feeling like old news as it gives way to an already active and interesting free agency news cycle.

It’s these next couple weeks and months that have captured Harrell’s attention.

The 6-foot-8 forward is entering the final year on his two-year, $12 million contract with the Clippers, and he’s hoping his team makes a big splash. L.A. has room for at least one player that will demand a max contract, and is looking to make room for another.

“We got a fun summer coming ahead of us,” he said. “We have open money to get possibly two max players to add to our team, which was already a good team. … Ultimately we’re trying to get to where Toronto got this year. That’s what it’s all about.”

Harrell, whose team was ousted by Golden State in six games in the opening round of the playoffs, followed the rest of the postseason closely. He said that watching injuries take down key players was tough to swallow.

Harrell sympathized with Kevin Durant, who ruptured his Achilles tendon, and with shooting guard Klay Thompson, who suffered a torn ACL. The Tarboro native said that each player knows that an injury is possible each time they lace up, and that it’s also hard to keep a player off the floor.

The second-guessing of whether Durant should have played or not is much murkier than yes or no, Harrell said.

“It’s tough to see a guy like Kevin Durant, who sat out games then comes back and feels good, to go down like that,” Harrell said. “It’s a tough break. We’re all playing a sport that we love to do, and it’s hard to tell us not to do it.

“I don’t see anything wrong with what KD did. I’m not saying anybody mis-diagnosed him or anything, because at the end of the day it’s his decision. If a coach says, ‘You're going.’ It’s his decision to say, ‘No, I’m not.’ And he didn’t do that. He felt good, felt he wanted to play, and he started out locked in. It’s tough, but it’s the swing of the luck.”

Meanwhile, with one year left on his current deal, Harrell is looking forward to proving that he is worth a lucrative next payday. In exit interviews following the season with the coaching staff, Harrell said he was told to work on his ball-handling.

“In general, it’s a fun time for us as a team, and for me it’s about working and getting better by adding stuff to my game,” Harrell said. “It’s just about growing and adding different things in my game, and I know that if I do that it will not only help me, but help my team because the (Western Conference) is wide open.

And so is Harrell’s future.