Like all NBA rookies, Mavericks 21-year-old point guard Devin Harris, the fifth pick in the 2004 draft, who left Wisconsin before his senior season, is getting a crash course in the pro life. Over the next few months he'll share his experiences, on and off the court, in SI PLAYERS.
I'M IN the NBA! This has been my dream ever since I was 10 years old, playing pickup games in Milwaukee. My first day of training camp in October, I was so anxious I showed up two hours early. I knew there would be a lot of pressure on me because Dallas had lost All-Star point guard Steve Nash and I was one of the guys brought in to replace him. I also knew Steve and forward Dirk Nowitzki were good friends, and in the beginning Dirk was a little closed off and kind of picked on me in practice. It wasn't until the fourth preseason game that he started to come around, working with me more in practice, trying to get a feel for what the two of us could do.
I was a little surprised when Coach Nelson named me the starter after training camp. I'm not the type of guy who gets nervous before games, and I was confident I could do the job, but being a starting point guard is a lot of responsibility. To prepare myself before I head to the arena for every home game, I go up to the roof of my town house and sit quietly for 15 to 20 minutes and just relax and try to clear my head.
Early in the season things were going great. The team was winning, and I was playing about 20 minutes a game. But after the first month things started to go downhill. I struggled a bit and lost my starting job in early December. During a five-game stretch, Coach Nelson didn't play me much, which was difficult because I'm not used to sitting on the bench. I started wondering if I'd made the right decision by leaving school early. I called Tony Bennett, a former assistant at Wisconsin who played in the NBA. He told me every rookie has expectations put on him, but that mine were greater because I was on a team that was supposed to win. After reflecting, I decided I'd made the right decision. I was able to use my lack of playing time as motivation, and I had some of my best practices. I think that showed the coaches I deserved to play more.
I don't really believe in hitting the so-called rookie wall, but it's tough when two months into the NBA schedule you have already played more games than you did in a college season. It felt good to play well [11 points in 15 minutes] last week against the Lakers. That's the type of game I hope will get me back into the starting lineup.