Having interviewed Mike Harris last week, the Shanghai Daily’s feature writer, Alex Linder, very kindly send his exclusive talk with the Sharks’ talismanic forward over to Shark Fin Hoops. In it, the former Houston Rocket player touches on the Sharks regular season, the crunch series with Shanxi, the best player in the CBA and who is more deadly from the free-throw line, Coach Panaggio or Yao Ming.
AL: The first thing I’d like to talk about is this year’s team compared with last year’s. What do you think the biggest differences are?
MH: This year, all the players are older now. They all trained this summer so they got a lot stronger. Here, Coach Panaggio is trying to integrate a system where the Chinese players are equals, so it puts a lot more ownership on them. It’s not just ‘pass the ball to the Americans and space out the floor’. The crazy thing is this is the first year in and we made the playoffs- [ the triangle offence] is really a system that probably takes two or three years to get adjusted to so I can only imagine how good they are going to be next year.
AL: When the team started out 2-7 what were you thinking?
MH: Me and Ryan [Forehan-Kelly], we pretty much hung out everyday. After every game, we were sitting there talking and we were like, “man, what can we do?” . The games we were in- we were losing close; Lester Hudson hits a shot at the buzzer [against Qingdao], after that we go to Shandong, same exact situation and we’re going into overtime, then we go to Foshan and it’s same thing. Then all of a sudden, we win at home, then we go on the road and we win that game in Bayi, and I think that was what helped us. Its one of the toughest places to play [in Ningbo] and we overcame that. After that, I think everyone’s confidence went up and after that, we won nine out of ten games.
AL: Who do you think made the biggest improvement this year?
MH: Probably Max [Zhang Zhaoxu]. Max has made a tremendous improvement and he’s only got upside. He’s looking at the basket now when he makes his move. He’s knocking down the twelve footer. When I see him at the free throw line, I’m not afraid to pass it. He alters a lot of shots, especially at the rim and I feel comfortable sending people to him. I think next year, he’s going to get a lot stronger. He’s an extremely hard worker.
AL: What was your favorite game of the year?
MH: The Bayi game was good because that was our first win on the road. The fourth quarter was tough but in the end, we got stop after stop.
AL: At home, you seem to really relish the crowd and play for them, especially the Small Yellow Fish section.
MH: Yea, my wolfpack. I love those people! It’s supposed to be, like home, it’s our environment- you want more and more fans to continue to come out to the game. I’m about to get my Chinese twitter account set back up because I forgot the log in but I used to love talking to all the fans on there. There’s nothing like a [Shanghai] home crowd. Our fans are loud. They’re rude. One of the translators told me that my aunt was at one of the last home games when we played J.R. Smith’s team. He told me that they [the crowd] thought she was his sister. So people were starting to say stuff and finally one of our people told them that it wasn’t. I’m glad they did that because my aunt would have snapped back. I was like, man, our crowd is harsh!
AL: Can you understand any of what the crowd is shouting at you?
MH: There are some players that know a little bit of English, so when [the fans] chant stuff, they’ll come tell me, but I just kinda just block it out. I don’t want to get caught up into the hype. Usually I look to make sure my fiancée and my daughter is at the game. After that it doesn’t really matter.
AL: In doing some research, I was surprised to see that your three-point percentage has climbed all the way up to 40% because when I looked earlier in the season it was in the low 20% range. Was your shot off at the beginning of the year and now you’re starting to find your groove, or do you even think about this kind of stuff?
MH: No. I just consider myself a streaky person. I never look at the stats after the game. I’ll ask people about my turnovers and rebounds because if I don’t get a lot of rebounds, I feel like I didn’t really help my team out. Usually if there’s something big that I do then everyone in the locker room starts chanting but I never look at the percentages. I’m a guy that if I’m shooting bad, say I’ve made one out of ten threes on the year and it’s at the end of the half and I get the ball, I’m going to try to get a shot off. I couldn’t care less if it messes with my percentage. Some people care about that stuff; ‘I’ve shot 8 for 8 in the game, I don’t want to take this last crazy shot”- but I want that shot.
AL: What do you think of the playoff matchup against Shanxi?
MH: It’s very difficult. Their two Americans are great. Marcus Williams is really an NBA player. His three-point percentage, I don’t even know what it is, but I’m sure it’s something ridiculous. His ability to get to the basket, shoot mid-range; he’s not one of those guys that’s going to give you 25 points on 35 shots. He’ll give you 27 points on maybe 15 shots and he’s going to get 10 of 10 from the free throw line. He’s really accurate. Charles [Gaines] is one of those guys who can just score at will. He scores and he scores, and he’s proven in this league. Those two alone are a nightmare. They’ve also got Chinese guys that are real streaky. Sometimes you get them and they’re knocking down shots. If they are, then they are tough to beat but I think that’s what’s going to make it good. We don’t match up great with them and they don’t match up great with us.
AL: Will you be guarding Gaines?
MH: In the second half, I want to take that responsibility. It’s the playoffs. It’s win or go home. In the playoffs, I want to guard the best; I want to take that challenge. I think my team needs more from me defensively and you’ve got to lead by example. I can’t go and expect more from them if I’m not doing it myself, so I think if I come out and set the tone and lead, then I think they’ll be able to follow along with me.
AL: Have any plans after the season ends?
MH: I haven’t decided, maybe the D-League. My agent is on the way over here- he’s talked to a couple of teams so when I get back, I may have a ten-day [contract] or two, or maybe a deal for the rest of the season and if not maybe I’ll go over to Puerto Rico again and play there for a while. I love playing over there. It’s awesome. A big change of scenery for me and my family. We go from all these jackets to shorts and t-shirts. It’s totally different over there, so I may go do that.
AL: Do you see yourself back in China next year?
MH: Possibly, it all depends; there are a lot of injuries in the NBA. I look at Jeremy Lin. He’s had a great go. He got that opportunity and he’s taken advantage of it. I think that may have an impact on a lot of coaches passing up on guys or maybe playing guys they’ve been curious about.
AL: Who do you think the best player in the CBA is?
MH: Probably Marcus Williams. Wilson Chandler is really good and J.R. [Smith] is a good scorer, and he can pass the ball as well. The most efficient guy is probably Marcus Williams though. I think if he was the only American on that team, he’d probably average 50 points. I also really like Will McDonald, especially in that game against Guangsha I saw; he spaced the floor with Ramos and made some outside shots and pulled [Ramos] out. Him, Anthony Roberson and Zaid Abbas are a tough team. Abbas is Mr. Energy- everywhere he goes, that team goes to the playoffs. He’s unbelievable.
AL: What about James Singleton? He seems like a bit of a punk but I think he may be the best player in the league.
MH: He’s a tough guy. He loves the negativity or when everyone boos him. I had a ten-day [contract] in Washington, and I was with him. They started [Singleton] at center against Marc Gasol and he handled him. Next game was against New York and he was doing the same thing to David Lee so I knew that coming over here would be easy for him.
AL: Does Yao ever play with the team?
MH: He’s in school now but he came in once and he shot some free throws against Coach [Panaggio]. I think Coach beat him!