Throughout the summer, the California men’s basketball program will bring fans a little closer to members of the program with the Golden Bear summer question-and-answer series. In our second installment, we profile assistant coach Jon Harris.
The Edwardsville, Ill. native will begin his 12th season as a collegiate coach and first at Cal in 2014-15. He has served on Cuonzo Martin’s staff at Missouri State, Tennessee and now with the Golden Bears. Harris was a standout on the hardwood at Marquette where he met his wife Heidi, an all-conference player for the Golden Eagles’ women’s basketball team. The couple has two daughters (Hailey and Leah) and a son (Jaxson).
CalBears.com recently talked to Harris to find out more about his coaching style and his experience so far as a Golden Bear.
CalBears.com: How is everything so far for you since joining the coaching staff here at Cal?
Jon Harris: It’s been great. It has been a real whirlwind, but we are settling in well. It is an exciting time for my family and I.
CB: How is your family enjoying the Bay Area so far?
JH: It is good for all of us. My wife is from about three hours north of here and she has family in Sacramento so she is happy to be close to where she grew up. Our kids love swimming and being outside in general. The weather here is perfect for them.
CB: In exploring the Cal campus, what has stuck out to you?
JH: It is a beautiful campus. My wife and I got married in Redwood Grove and to walk around this campus and see the Redwood trees is reminiscent of that. It really is a great campus.
CB: When Coach Martin reached out to you to join his coaching staff here at Cal, what was it that first attracted you to this opportunity?
JH: I have worked with Coach for seven years now. I know what he is about. I know how he does business. He is a genuine guy and I have nothing but respect for him. As for Cal, I see this as a great opportunity to be at one of the premier institutions in the world, then couple that with one of best basketball conferences in America in the Pac-12.
CB: How familiar were you with the Cal program prior to joining the staff?
JH: First and foremost, Cal is one of the most well-respected academic institutions in the world. That is well known. The basketball program has had some success and has recently benefited from the conference’s national exposure through its network. As a whole though, I was not too familiar with the Pac-12 prior to coming out here. A lot of times when these games were on TV when I lived back east, I was already asleep for the night.
We are a basketball program, but more than that the education is second to none. That is a major advantage for us moving forward.
CB: How is the recruiting landscape here at Cal?
JH: We are situated in a great area where you can really reach a lot of prospects in a short drive. There are a lot of prospects that can play at this level that live close to here and we want them to play close to home in front of their family and friends.
If you are from the Bay Area, why would you go anywhere else? You can play in a great conference in the Pac-12 that just had six guys selected in the first round of the NBA Draft. You have a beautiful campus and the No. 1 public institution in the world. From a basketball standpoint, you have a staff that will care for you on and off the court with a proven track record of success. Coach Martin is a winner. When people get a chance to know Coach Martin and see what he is about, I think people will have a hard time saying no to us.
CB: What do you attribute to your success working with post players throughout your coaching career?
JH: A lot of things can be addressed from a recruiting standpoint. You have to get guys that are hungry, have mobility and can run the floor. We focus a lot on footwork, how the individual catches the ball and what his touch is like around the rim. We feel guys can improve from a skill development standpoint in our system. We do a lot of one-on-one work with the guys.
Our teams have always finished strong down the stretch of a season going back to our days coaching at Missouri State. I think that is a credit to the improvement that our guys make over the course of a season. I am really happy for a guy like Jarnell [Stokes]. During our time at Tennessee, he was a guy that had it in his mind he was going to be an NBA Draft pick and he was hungry. He worked hard at attacking deficiencies in his game, and he got the results he was looking for.
CB: How would you describe Coach Martin’s style?
JH: He is a relationship guy more than anyone I have ever been around. He is always calling and texting the guys in our program as much as we are as assistant coaches. You don’t always find that from a head coach. He has always had a very strong bond with the guys on our teams. You see that reciprocated from the players. When it comes down to it, the guys will run through a wall for Coach because they know he cares about them and they know he is genuine in what he says. There is a love and respect there.
On the court, he is very competitive. He expects our teams to defend at a high level with high intensity, and he will give them freedom to perform on offense. He is not really a yeller on the sidelines or in practice, but he understands how to motivate guys. He has done a tremendous job as a coach.
CB: What have you seen from the student-athletes here at Cal so far on your roster?
JH: We really have a great group. We have only been here for a couple months, but you can see the guys are really fun to be around. We enjoy spending time with them. We are fortunate to inherit a good group. I think the chemistry is there. We have guys with leadership qualities engrained in them.
On the floor, they have done a great job. We have been lifting at 6 a.m. and getting workouts in on the court right afterwards. The intensity and chatter has been there. A lot of times when you are transitioning programs, guys are quiet and keep to themselves as they find their way, but this group really has good energy. They do a great job motivating each other.
CB: What excites you about the Pac-12 Conference?
JH: Every night is going to be a fight. Everywhere you go in this league, you have a good atmosphere. This is one of the top conferences in the country with six teams going to the NCAA Tournament a year ago. The national exposure is there with every game on television. I think, as a competitor, this is what you want.
CB: Do you have a moment that sticks out more than others as a coach?
JH: That is a difficult one, but if I had to pick one, the game in Dayton last year. That was special for us. I remember we gathered at Coach’s house for the NCAA Tournament selection show and expectations were high. We get thrown into the First Four and the guys were disappointed. They were excited for an opportunity to continue playing, but we expected to be a higher seed. It was a tough draw against Iowa and we didn’t get off to a great start in the game. A credit to Coach Martin and the way he built that team to handle adversity. We found a way to win the game and I remember walking back to the locker room, the excitement and the smiles the guys had on their faces was special as we moved on to the next round of the tournament.