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Harris Finds Niche With Dallas, but He Won't Let Himself Get Comfortable : NBA: Former Long Beach State guard has played respectably for Mavericks, who are trying to turn program around.


INGLEWOOD — His legs and arms remain in motion long after he has promised to stop lifting these imposing weights, but Lucious Harris spoke too soon. Harris' workout will occupy him a bit longer. Just enough time for one more push, another pull.

Harris apologizes for the delay and explains he wouldn't feel right leaving the task unfinished. As the Dallas Maverick guard resumes his duty, you realize you've just witnessed the commitment those familiar with him admire.

"To see the way he's grown, the way he continues to grow, it just makes me so proud of him," said Seth Greenberg, who coached Harris at Long Beach State. "He's a man now, but he's kept his celebrity status very much in check. He's just a good person."

After two seasons in the NBA, Harris is a veteran of what high school, college and professional hoops players worldwide affectionately refer to as "The League." He has attained something they all dream about but most can't have. Although Harris has found an enviable niche with the rising Mavericks, he won't allow himself to feel at home.

Much work awaits.

"I knew I had to prove myself to Dallas," said Harris, who lives in Inglewood during the off-season. "With the nucleus being there already, I wasn't expecting to just step right in. I worked really hard this summer and last summer to show my commitment."

Such hunger is to be expected of second-round draft choices but, trust us, not all have Harris' fire. Harris, though, quickly understood that his drive would be more important than ever.

"The competition, that's what you always hear about, is as good as everyone tells you it is," Harris said. "Every night, guys are going at you. I knew I had to work for my opportunities."

The Mavericks selected Harris with the 28th pick in the 1993 draft after he had helped restore some luster to a moribund 49er program. A four-year starter at Long Beach, Harris holds the Big West Conference all-time scoring record with 2,312 points.

"He came to Long Beach when it wasn't fashionable," Greenberg said.

Fortunately for Harris, pro scouts aren't big on fashion.

"He was always considered to be a draftable player, and I thought he was a prospect," said Marty Blake, NBA director of scouting.

Harris signed a three-year contract (the final an option year for the Mavericks) and immersed himself in learning the rigors of the NBA.

He immediately showed promise. As a backup to highly touted shooting guard Jim Jackson, Harris averaged 15.1 minutes and 5.4 points in 77 games. He also shot well for a rookie, making 42.1% of his field goal shots and 73.1% of his free throw attempts.

OK, that was the good part. The Mavericks were by far the worst team in the league with a record of 13-69, continuing an inauspicious trend that began several seasons earlier.

"I never lost that many games in my career," Harris said. "It's hard to keep your head up losing that much."

However, that wasn't the worst of it. Quinn Buckner was Harris' first professional coach. Buckner, too, was in his rookie season and reportedly butted heads with many of the Mavericks' talented young players. Team morale suffered, which just about completed the mettle-testing experience.

Welcome to the NBA.

"Man, that was hard to handle," Harris said.

Buckner was ousted at season's end. The Mavericks then returned to the past for their future, rehiring Dick Motta.

Motta was the Mavericks' first coach. The franchise experienced its greatest success during his watch, but some NBA observers wondered if Motta, 63, was too old to relate to this new breed of Mavericks.

Dallas' players, though, were not among the doubters.

"We knew right away it was a good situation for everyone," Harris said. "We wanted to learn and he wanted to teach. He's been around a long time and he's real laid-back.

"He told us we could have fun as long as we got the job done. Buckner had more of a 'foot-down' approach. He was more military with us."

Guess which style worked best? The Mavericks were one of the NBA's most improved teams last season, finishing 36-46. What's more, they might have qualified for the playoffs had Jackson not severely sprained his left ankle Feb. 24 and missed the final 31 games.

Still, Dallas didn't fold. The team went 16-15 after Jackson's season-ending injury and Harris played a prominent role.

Harris was the third guard in Motta's three-guard rotation. He backed up Jackson and point guard Jason Kidd, the NBA's co-rookie of the year. Harris started 30 of the final 31 games, missing one because of a sprained right ankle, in Jackson's place and rewarded the Mavericks with sound and sometimes spectacular play.

As a starter, Harris averaged 13.3 points. He made 43.9% of his field goal attempts during this span and scored a career-high 31 points in only 29 minutes against the Seattle SuperSonics on April 9.

"He's a good player and he's going to be in the league for a long time," Blake said.

For the season, Harris appeared in 79 games and averaged 9.5 points.

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