March 30, 2013 at 1:00 am

John Niyo

Freshman Gary Harris should rest up, return to Michigan State

Indianapolis — The freshman got schooled, by his own admission.

But slumped in front of his locker early Saturday morning — it was after midnight, after all — Gary Harris didn't sound like a teenager ready to graduate just yet. Mostly, the 18-year-old Michigan State guard sounded like a kid in need of a nap. And an ice bag. Or maybe even a trip to the surgeon.

Physically beaten, visibly frustrated and emotionally drained — that's how Harris' first season of college basketball ended Friday night. And after getting run ragged by Seth Curry in the Spartans' 71-61 loss to Duke in an NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional semifinal at Lucas Oil Stadium — "He kind of took me to school today," Harris said — he really didn't want to think about the future, let alone talk about it.

But in this one-and-done age of college hoops, and with the NBA's early entry draft deadlines looming — underclassmen have until April 28 to declare, but an April 16 deadline to maintain their NCAA eligibility — he knew those questions were coming as soon as the season ended.

"Oh, man, I haven't even thought about that," said Harris, the Big Ten freshman of the year. "I mean, we've been focusing on the season."

Now that this one's over, he did talk inclusively about the next one.

"We're only losing one player," Harris said, referring to MSU's lone senior, Derrick Nix. "We're going to have a talented team next year."

And though he answered another question about his draft decision like this — "I really have no idea at this point, no idea at all," he said — Harris was then asked if his plan right now was to return

"I mean, yeah," he replied. "Yeah, definitely. Yep."

NBA not out of the question

None of which means much of anything at this point, frankly. If you'll recall, Michigan's Trey Burke was saying many of the same things a year ago, immediately after his freshman season ended in similar fashion. But the Wolverines' point guard strongly considered entering the draft, and very nearly did.

Harris owes it to himself to explore that same possibility, as does Michigan State junior forward Adreian Payne. Their coach, Tom Izzo, says he'll help them do exactly that, as he always does, though he did offer his own educated guess, saying, "I think all of them will be back, except for Nix." (If he's right, Michigan State probably begins next season with a top-five national ranking.)

"We'll call the NBA office on every guy — I might call them on me— and try to find out where they are," said Izzo, who presumably was joking about his own prospects there.

ESPN draft analyst Chad Ford lists the 6-foot-4 Harris as a potential lottery pick and the third-best shooting guard prospect behind Ben McLemore (Kansas) and Victor Oladipo (Indiana), while he ranks Payne as the seventh-best power forward and a possible late first-round choice.

"But half that stuff is some guy in his basement coming up with draft picks," Izzo said, before offering his own abstract scouting report from the hallway outside his team's locker room. "Some guys are maybe ready physically and not mentally. Some guys are ready mentally and not physically. I think there's a lot of work to be done. But I'm not an NBA team. And if there's one out there that wants one of my guys, I'd be the first to help them try to get there."

First, though, Harris probably needed somebody to help him take his jersey off after Friday's game, which saw him score just six points on 2-of-11 shooting against Duke's stingy perimeter defense.

Shoulder needs a look

Midway through the second half of the loss to Duke, Harris suffered another subluxation — or temporary dislocation — of his left shoulder while getting fouled on a layup. He said the arm was "numb" as he made one of the two ensuing free throws and by now he admits he's almost numb to the pain of recurring shoulder injuries that began back in November.

"It hurts," he admitted. "My body's been through a lot this season. Unfortunately, the season's over, so I can finally rest it up, I guess. But I wasn't ready for the season to be over."

Harris said he and his parents expect to consult with orthopedic specialists to see if surgery is recommended "so we can get this thing taken care of." And according to Izzo, "It'll be something we try to look at quickly."

"I just don't want to have him having to play that way, worried about it," the coach added. "I mean, you have not seen the Gary Harris I recruited yet. Now, he performed better, in some ways, than I thought he would as a freshman. But as far as the aggressive, take it to the hole, go get a rebound, we haven't seen that yet. And it's been because of that (injury) all season."

Hopefully, Harris can put that behind him, even if it means enduring a few months of post-surgical rehab this spring and summer. Hopefully, we'll get to see the player Izzo recruited next season, still in a Michigan State uniform. And maybe the painful truth is the former makes the latter more likely.

My unsolicited advice: Take a look at what Burke did for himself this season, and what he was doing Friday night in Dallas, and follow his lead by staying in school.

But until then, by all means, get some rest.

john.niyo@detroitnews.com

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Physically beaten, visibly frustrated and emotionally drained — that’s how Gary Harris, bottom, ended his first season of college basketball Friday night. / Dale G. Young/Detroit News
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