Steve Harris suddenly has a future filled with tulips, windmills and wooden shoes.
“Wooden shoes?” Harris said. “I haven’t heard that one yet.”
But he is hearing all the other jokes about what makes Holland famous, as his future also includes professional basketball in the Netherlands.
On July 5, the Hamilton resident signed a contract with the Den Helder Suns in the Dutch Basketball League, the country’s top pro division. He began training camp Aug. 24, and the season begins in early October.
“Once I got to college, I realized that people from my school were going overseas,” Harris said in early August. “I was playing against some of these guys who had the opportunity to go overseas and I remember thinking to myself, ‘Man, I’m just as good as these guys, I can do this.’”
He did after an outstanding senior season at East Stroudsburg University, in which he led the Warriors in scoring (15.4 points per game), rebounding (7.3) and blocked shots (1.0) while leading the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference and ranking sixth in Division II with a school-record 66.0 shooting percentage. In the postseason, he helped ESU to the first D-II Atlantic Region title in post-season history, as Harris was named MVP in both the PSAC Tournament and Atlantic Regional championships.
“I had to have a great year this year,” Harris said. “I was told I had to be all-conference, get my thousand points, and help my team make a run in the playoffs to make myself noticeable and attractive to another team. I was able to do all those things and when the season ended I got contacted and it just kept rolling from there.”
Harris’ journey started at Notre Dame High School, where he played for three years under then-coach Bob Turco. A standout career landed him a scholarship with East Stroudsburg, where he finished with 1,080 points and 668 rebounds (ninth on the school’s all-time list). He ranks fourth in games played (119) and tied for first in post-season games (15).
Frustration struck during his fourth season. After a breakout junior year, Harris was averaging 12.4 points and 10.4 rebounds five games into his senior campaign before suffering an ankle injury that forced him to take a medical redshirt. He had a year of eligibility remaining but was on course to graduate in four years with a degree in communications broadcasting.
Life was at a crossroads. Steve wanted to play his final season in order to impress overseas scouts. His mom, Carol, was leaning toward him graduating and getting out in the work world.
“It was her job to think the worst case possible and prepare for the worst, because with me being the young dreamer that I am tend to overlook some details at times,” Harris said with a laugh. “That’s where my mom comes into it.”
And there were issues to be concerned about.
“At that point and time, going overseas was far from certain,” Harris said. “I had to do a lot of stuff to give myself an opportunity, and this was before I was even sure if I’d be able to stay healthy.”
The dream of playing pro was too great to ignore, however, so Harris withdrew completely from school prior to the spring semester, with plans of re-registering in the fall of 2017. He was still a team member; but in the eyes of the NCAA, he wasn’t.
It was a tough winter.
“Dropping out meant I had to cut myself off from team,” Harris said. “I wasn’t allowed in the locker room or the facilities at any time. I wasn’t allowed to group chat anymore. I kind of had to isolate myself.”
He returned to Hamilton, worked at DeLorenzo’s The Burg Pizza in Levittown, Pennsylvania, and dedicated himself to playing basketball and working out, getting into the best shape of his life.
“I was never really big into the whole weight lifting thing growing up,” Harris said. “But when I came home last spring, I was lifting six to seven times a week. Sometimes I would go in the morning, get bored and go back again at night. I just kind of caught the bug a little bit.”
The difference was noticeable.
“His senior year he totally took his game to another level and was our primary option,” coach Jeff Wilson said. “This allowed him to play his best basketball down the stretch. Steve also saw great individual growth in becoming a team captain and someone that elevated his teammates both on and off the court. Steve showed tremendous growth during his five-year career. He had the opportunity to fill every role during his career.”
By season’s end, Harris procured Courtside Management, a sports agency located in Europe, to negotiate a deal for him.
“We got along well,” he said. “I signed with them and they basically took over from there. They just told me, ‘Put your head down, work out and stay in shape.’ They did all the legwork, put my tapes together, presented me with a couple of options.”
Harris felt Den Helder’s offer was the best, and his agency agreed, so he never explored other options. The city of Den Helder is a Naval seaport at the northern tip of the Netherlands, and is approximately an hour from Amsterdam—a fact not lost on Harris’s party-hearty buddies who want to come visit.
His reasons for choosing there were a bit different, however.
“I like the Netherlands because it’s a good country for Americans to go to, a very high rate of English-speaking citizens,” Harris said. “In every poll or list that you see, they’re constantly rated one of the top five nicest countries to live in, and on top of that, they’re located in a nice part of Europe. If I play very well, I can have some exposure. Germany is right next door. So if I go over there and perform well, there’s an opportunity to turn this into a nice little career.”
It has happened before with a township basketball player. In the early 1980s, Steinert Athletic Hall of Fame member John Ebeling had a standout professional career in Italy that he parlayed into a successful life as a sports agent there.
The fact that Den Helder was interested in Harris was another plus, as many European teams are scared off by anyone who did not play Division I college ball. But once he signed a one-year deal, which is fairly standard in Europe, his place on the team was secure.
“I had an uphill battle, so just getting my foot in the door was going to be a big thing,” he said. “I got my foot in the door, I got my spot on the team. Now I feel I’m on a level playing field and I can really try to make something happen.”
He can do so in numerous ways. Wilson noted that Steve’s workout regimen last year made him a “physically dominant player that could really score the basketball in the paint.”
“Physically he became someone we knew we could get the ball to and he would come up with big baskets,” the coach said. “He was also a tremendous rebounder at both ends of the court. Steve is very quick off his feet and the combination of his strength and quickness made him a force as a rebounder.”
And yet, he is equally effective away from the basket and helping other players score.
“He has a very good overall skill level offensively,” Wilson added. “One area in particular is his ability to pass both on the perimeter and out of the post. Steve was very unselfish as a player and did a very good job setting his teammates up.”
Harris has had several conversations with his new coach, Peter van Noord about the Dutch style of play, and that excites him further. The high-tempo offense is similar to what Harris played at ND and ESU; and the fact that he’s a mobile big man who can run the floor was something van Noord was looking for.
Harris wants to mix in his own style of blue collar play.
“I’m really looking forward to using my American physicality, and a little bit of American swagger,” he said. “I put a lot of time in the gym to kind of acquire these muscles. I like using them, I like hitting people. A lot of Europeans supposedly don’t like getting hit. I’m looking forward to using that a little bit.”
Wilson feels it is a great marriage between team and player.
“Steve will have the opportunity to play immediately in a very good league to start his professional career,” he said. “I look forward to following him and know that his hard work and dedication to the game will allow him the opportunity for professional success.”
And, at the very least, a chance to experience wooden shoes, tulips and windmills.