Mac Engel

One night, two 10-day guys chased the NBA phantom

Phoenix Suns guard Shaquille Harrison defends as Dallas Mavericks' Aaron Harrison, right, attempts a shot in Tuesday's game.
Phoenix Suns guard Shaquille Harrison defends as Dallas Mavericks' Aaron Harrison, right, attempts a shot in Tuesday's game. The Associated Press

Coming out of high school, he was ranked next to Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins and Julius Randle as the best in the nation, and yet above Aaron Harrison's locker is not his name, but rather the two words: "DALLAS MAVERICKS."

The locker for the Mavs' guard is Harrison's to be used, but it's not his. Not yet.

Harrison isn't complaining, and he is not a cliche cautionary tale, but he is another side of the annual draft process that begins now.

He is the McDonald's All-American who went to Kentucky, came out early only to be undrafted and now is another anonymous face begging to get into the NBA via the G-League and the hope of a 10-day contract.

"You have those thoughts [about staying in college], but there is nothing you can do about it," Harrison said after the Mavs' season-ending loss to the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday. "I'm not a big 'what if?' guy. You just have to go along with what happens and take what happens and react to that and nothing else. I can't really go back in time and say [I should have stayed]."

On Tuesday night, all the NBA celebrated the arrival of Andre Ingram to the L.A. Lakers. Ingram's story is both inspiring to us all, and a warning to guys like Harrison and the next new flock of guys who can't wait to leave college to play pro basketball.

Guys such as Harrison. Because at one point, Andre Ingram was Aaron Harrison.

Harrison, a native of Fort Bend whose twin brother Andrew plays with Memphis, signed a 10-day contract with the Mavs on March 22. Aaron Harrison spent most of the past three years in the G-League.

A few hours after Harrison played all 48 minutes of Tuesday's game, joining the likes of Michael Finley, Dirk Nowitzki and 12 other Mavs who played all 48 minutes of a regulation-length game, Ingram went viral complete with an extended interview on TNT with Chuck, Kenny, Shaq and Ernie Johnson.

Ingram was a four-year college player at American who chased the dream in the NBA's minor leagues for 10 years before the Lakers signed him to a prorated 10-day contract for the final two games of the season. On Tuesday night, he became, at 32, the oldest American rookie since 1964 to play in the NBA.

He scored 19 points against the Houston Rockets, and is the best story of the entire NBA season.

Ingram, who has touches of gray hair, is married and has a 6-year-old daughter. He also tutors math and majored in physics at American University. He was one of the best shooters in the G-League, and on Tuesday he got his shot, and he made several.

Harrison can't conceive what Ingram went through to have that moment. Ingram was making anywhere from $26,000 to $32,000 a season as a G-League player, and passed on several chances to play overseas.

Guys who go overseas make more money, but it's a harder path to the NBA.

Harrison is only 23, and with 35 NBA career games since he left Kentucky in 2015, he's already done far more in the league than Ingram likely ever will.

But a 10-day contract for a locker with no name plate is Harrison's reality. It's a reality for what will be another over-sized class for the NBA's June draft, which features only 60 picks and way too many players.

Currently, 38 underclassmen have declared for the NBA draft and hired agents, thereby ending their college eligibility. An additional 70 players have also declared their intentions to come out early, but have not hired agents. Those numbers don't include college seniors.

They ain't all making it.

"Confidence is the biggest thing. Just believe in yourself," Harrison said. "People have told me plenty of things, like I'm a G-League player and that I don't belong in the NBA. They say you are not athletic enough. You don't shoot it well enough. If you believe them, you are going to give up. You just can't believe them.

"I never believed it."

Harrison is bright and as a player he's not a bum, and he might end up making it with the Mavs, or another NBA franchise.. His path, however, is difficult and when the new class comes in, it will only grow increasingly harder.

He knows what every incoming player learns the hard way. The last guy on the bench can play, even if he never enters the game.

"I didn't have any idea. I'm the 14th guy and I think I'm a really good player," he said. "I thought I could compete right away. I wouldn't say I was wrong, but I definitely needed to add things to my game and my body to be effective. I still do. I have time."

As did Andre Ingram.

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