At 19 years and 208 days, Maurice Harkless is the youngest player on the Orlando Magic roster and the fourth youngest player in the league. But, don’t let his “-teen” suffix fool you. The rookie wingman is not playing kid games anymore.
Starting for the Magic the past eight games, he’s already had to square up against the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Ron Artest, Tayshaun Prince, Joe Johnson and Paul Pierce. On the days when he doesn’t have a game, his slate only gets tougher, going through weight training, floor drills, shooting practices and film sessions — all to help mold him into the type of player he’s now been tasked to guard.
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Oh, to be young and full of potential, eager and gifted and willing to work.
So willing, in fact, that trying to talk to him after a practice would require an additional two-hour wait for him to finish lifting with his strength coach. Harkless might as well get a bed installed in the Magic practice facility at Amway Center.
“I’m always here,” he said when asked how he spends his free time. “If we’re not on the road, I’m right here.”
For this week’s Q&A, FOX Sports Florida caught up with Harkless an hour after the Brooklyn game on Nov. 30. The young buck was in practice shorts and a cut-off tee. Drops of sweat rolled down his arms as he sat at his locker, untying his shoes.
FS Florida: So you went from last year being a rookie in college to now being a rookie in the NBA. Two major transitions in two years. What’s been different from college to the NBA?
Maurice Harkless: It’s just an entirely different level you know. I went from being the best player on my team to now just trying to fit in and find my way.
FS Florida: What’s been the same?
Harkless: Well it’s still basketball. Even at the highest level, it’s still the game I love.
FS Florida: What is it that you love about basketball?
Harkless: It pretty much just makes me happy.
FS Florida: Would happiness be a word you would use to describe your draft night?
Harkless: Oh definitely. It was like a dream come true honestly. Best night of my life.
FS Florida: Did you pick out your suit? We all know players take a lot of pride in how they’re looking that night.
Harkless: (laughing) I didn’t pick it out. But, that suit was nice! I actually didn’t even see it beforehand. I let the lady surprise me with it. She did a great job.
FS Florida: Do the guys ever clown you about being the youngest on the team?
Harkless: (laughing) Oh yeah, all the time. They always bring it up.
FS Florida: Who usually gets on you the most?
Harkless: I’d say Jameer. He’s always got something to say. But, really it’s all the guys. Even the other rookies, because they’re older than me too. Even the equipment managers say stuff.
FS Florida: The equipment managers are older than you too?
Harkless: Yeah, they are. It’s sad.
FS Florida: What is the one thing you wanted after you signed your contract?
Harkless: Well, I really haven’t had any real big purchases outside of my car and my apartment.
FS Florida: What are you driving now?
Harkless: A BMW.
FS Florida: Car or SUV?
FS Florida: Over the summer you said you were having a hard time adjusting to the heat and humidity. How do you like the weather now that it’s coming up on winter?
Harkless: Oh I love it. I absolutely love it now. The weather is perfect.
FS Florida: Do you miss the snow at all?
Harkless: I mean yeah, sometimes. Like around the holidays. It didn’t really feel like
Thanksgiving with it being so warm. It may not really feel like Christmas either, but the weather here is great.
FS Florida: You’ve said Kobe, T-Mac, and Shaq were all players you looked up to growing up. I can see Kobe and T-Mac because they are similar type players as you, but why Shaq?
Harkless: I liked Shaq because he is just an entertainer. He was always going to put on a show no matter what.
FS Florida: What do you think about him now as an analyst?
Harkless: I still feel the same way. The guy is hilarious.
FS Florida: Who’s funnier? Him or Charles Barkley?
Harkless: Ahhh man, that’s hard. But, I’m going with Shaq. It’s his voice. His voice is so deep. He’s always saying the most off the wall stuff in that deep voice. Just too funny to me.
FS Florida: So you go from looking up to those NBA players to being one of the NBA players kids now look up to.
Harkless: Yeah. You know growing up I was always the kid asking for a picture or an autograph, and going to the NBA player basketball camps. Now that I’m in the league, I just get so much from being able to give back. I know how much a simple talk with an NBA player can make a kid’s day because I was that kid. It’s just great to be able to connect with the kids who look up to me. Keeps me humble.
FS Florida: Do you ever have those, “Wow” moments where you just take a step back and ask yourself, “I play in the NBA?”
Harkless: All the time. All the time.
FS Florida: Rumor has it that you liked to read. What’s your favorite book?
Harkless: The Giver by Lois Lowry.
FS Florida: You reading anything right now?
Harkless: Actually J.J. just got me a book. I haven’t started reading it yet, but it will probably be next on my list. It’s called The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell.
FS Florida: What’s your most embarrassing basketball moment?
Harkless: In middle school, beginning of the game. We’re all lined up for the tip and the ball comes to me. I was so excited I took the ball to the other team’s basket and scored a layup (laughing). So embarrassing.
FS Florida: What about your most memorable moment?
Harkless: Last year, playing against Duke. Even though we didn’t come out with the win, just the game I had, the way we played, it was a real confidence booster for me.
FS Florida: What album are you listening to these days?
Harkless: I listen to a lot of mixtapes. Right now, I’m listening to a lot of Fabolous.
FS Florida: If you had to describe yourself in three words, what would they be?
Harkless: Quiet, observant, funny.
FS Florida: What about describing yourself in one sentence…
Harkless: I’m just a guy, blessed to be doing what I love.