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German Efficiency 

If you’re sloppy defending Gonzaga’s Elias Harris, he’ll organize a dunk in your face

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Elias Harris is a neat freak. Gonzaga’s freshman forward may, in fact, be the first male athlete in college history to keep a tidy apartment.

“I’m just a clean person,” he says. “I don’t like it when stuff is laying around and it’s not in order. That makes me go nuts.”

His teammates certainly admire the orderly manner in which Harris cleans the glass when rebounding. Gonzaga’s sleek new German import averages a team-high 7.5 rebounds per game for the 17th-ranked Bulldogs, and he’s second on the team in scoring at 14.1 points per game.

“He’s definitely very mature for a freshman,” Gonzaga junior guard Steven Gray says. “On the court, he doesn’t look like a freshman at all.”

Maybe that’s because Harris is 20 years old. Also, he played on the German national team at the European Championships last summer, facing NBA players like San Antonio Spurs star Tony Parker and Golden State Warriors forward (and former Gonzaga standout) Ronny Turiaf. (Parker and Turiaf were playing for France.)

Gonzaga assistant coach Tommy Lloyd, who heads up European recruiting for the Bulldogs, says he needed just one look at Harris in fall 2008 to know that he wanted to haul him back to Spokane. Once he met Harris, Lloyd says, he came away just as impressed with the person as the athlete.

“He’s kind of got that Ronny personality,” Lloyd says. “Just a great guy. Mature. Smart. Easy to be around.”

On a team with just one starter back from an NCAA tournament Sweet 16 squad, the 6-foot-8, 215-pound Harris is the only one of Gonzaga’s eight freshmen who starts.

“It almost feels like he can just turn it on and off when he wants,” Gray says. “You know, he says, ‘Oh, I haven’t done anything for a while, I’m just going to go get an offensive rebound. I’m going to go by a double-team and dunk.’

“It’s incredible to watch.”

Asked if anything has surprised him about the college game, Elias (pronounced uhLEE-us) calmly replies, “No, not at all.” Harris, it turns out, often watched televised games of Gonzaga and other U.S. colleges back home. “We knew he wasn’t like a regular freshman,” Gonzaga senior guard Matt Bouldin says.

“He’s a very, very bright kid,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few says. “Good learner. Obviously, he has some real toughness about him. “He’s a very quick jumper and very athletic for his size. He’s been able to just step right in and log a lot of minutes, which is pretty rare for a first-year kid. His international experience has really helped.” Harris, a sport management major, says he turned down scholarship offers from Washing- ton and Cincinnati to commit to Gonzaga sight unseen.

“I just liked the [relatively] small community here,” Harris says in his flawless English. “The family feeling. Being part of something special.

“I trusted the coach [Lloyd] from the fi rst day on. When I talked with Tommy, there was something between us that made me believe and trust him. I don’t know exactly what it was, but it was there.”

Harris, born and raised in the ancient city of Speyer (pop. 50,000) on the Rhine River, is the son of an American father and German mother who met when Harris’ father served in the U.S. Army in Germany. Both parents have seen Harris play in person this season, though the couple has split up and Harris’ father now lives in the Houston area.

Harris says he had no idea that Chad Ford, the NBA draft expert for ESPN, recently listed him as the 16th-best prospect for the June draft.

“It almost feels like [Harris] can just turn it on and off when he wants,” Guard Stephen Gray says.

“Honestly, I don’t think I’m ready yet,” Harris says, “because there’s so many things I can work on and improve on.”

Later, Harris added, “We’ll see what happens this season. Maybe I can work on it this year, get better, ready. I don’t know.”

Obviously, folks at Gonzaga would love for Harris to stay put. Just as obviously, opponents like Eastern Washington post player Brandon Moore would gladly help Harris pack his bags.

“He’s a very good player,” Moore said after Harris dominated the Eagles in a rout last month. “Hats off to him. He hustles every play.”

Gonzaga (12-3 overall, 1-0 West Coast Conference) plays Saint Mary’s (15-2, 2-0) at Moraga, Calif., on Thursday, Jan. 14, at 8 pm (ESPN2). The Bulldogs visit San Diego (8-10, 1-1) on Saturday, Jan. 16, at 6 pm (KHQ-6). KGA 1510 will broadcast both games on radio.

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