Newest Piston Harris already reaching out to community

James Hawkins
The Detroit News
Detroit Pistons forward Tobias Harris is working in the community.

Detroit — After Pistons forward Tobias Harris reached his goal of playing in the NBA, he began asking himself what he wanted to accomplish next.

For Harris, the answer was simple — make an impact in the community.

Throughout his five-year career, Harris’ off-court passion has been mentoring local youth. He’s so dedicated that the day after he was traded from the Magic on Feb. 16, he still showed up at a charity event in Orlando to host a basketball clinic and pass out books for Black History Month to 70 kids.

It didn’t take long for the Pistons’ new acquisition to start making a difference in Detroit. On Monday, the Pistons and City Year Detroit announced a three-year, $300,000 partnership with Detroit Osborn High and surrounding elementary and middle schools that will enhance learning opportunities.

Harris will serve as an honorary City Year member and will work directly with students to lend academic, social and emotional support.

“I can just see there’s a need for kids and I think a lot of it has to do with encouragement and being there as somebody they can talk to. I know firsthand it’s something that’s always been big for me,” said Harris, who added he’s always looking to do something charitable on his off days.

“I know education is one of the biggest keys for a child to be successful. Instilling that in them and reminding them of that can only go a long way.”

In addition to financial commitments, the partnership will also include schools visits and support from Pistons players, executives and staffers.

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The deal will help City Year, a nonprofit organization, meet its goal to expand into four high schools and nine elementary and middle schools, and nearly double its amount of members from 71 to 140 over the next three years, where it estimates it will be able to support 10,000 students every day in Detroit schools.

It’s welcome news for a school district that has been crippled by debt and had teacher sickouts to protest the deplorable working conditions, health hazards and decaying buildings. Although Harris hasn’t heard a lot about the problems plaguing Detroit schools, such as overcrowded classrooms, crumbling walls and rodent infestations, it didn’t take long for him to notice a drawback.

“I can walk through the hallways and just hear and see there’s been a lot of dropouts. Obviously that’s a big issue and a big problem,” Harris said. “One of the best ways you can help that is give the kids encouragement, keep on striving for them to get there, give them some incentives to help them reach their goals and go from there.

“Just like there are problems in the Detroit school district, there’s problems all around the world in a lot of (school) districts I’ve dealt with also. I think for me, it’s obviously sitting down with my mother and the Detroit Pistons and try to go through a plan and try to help.”

Harris said he never had the opportunity to have a mentor in school while growing up in Islip, N.Y. Rather, his parents were the ones who pushed him to succeed. He added that while he didn’t grow up in a rough environment, that doesn’t mean he hasn’t seen it all.

“The thing that intrigues me with working with kids is I can relate to them,” Harris said. “I tell kids I work with I go through the same problems as you, just in a different financial bracket and that’s the truth.”

Fitting in

Since arriving to the Pistons, Harris has made a seamless transition, averaging 17 points, 5.5 rebounds and two assists in six games.

But after Harris was inserted into the starting lineup, the Pistons have won four straight and all five starters have scored in double figures during the stretch.

“Our team is playing some great basketball. That’s the bottom line,” Harris said. “We have some great chemistry going and everybody is playing hard.”