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Well-Traveled Rookie Back With Cavs

Joe Harris
Joe Harris has moved between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Canton Charge several times this year.

As the Cleveland Cavaliers were wrapping up their first playoff win in the media spotlight Sunday, their minor league team, the Canton Charge, were ending their season with a playoff loss to the Ft. Wayne Mad Ants. For most of the Developmental League team, that meant the end of the season. But for Joe Harris, it means yet another roster move.

Likely nobody knows the stretch of I-77 from Cleveland to Canton better than Joe Harris. That’s because his rookie season with the Cleveland Cavaliers has also been his rookie season with the Canton Charge. That means one day he shows up on the roster with LeBron, Kyrie and company. The next with Alex Kirk and Maurice Kemp and Steve Holt. 

And that’s OK by Harris. 

“Whatever locker room you’re walking into, it’s the same sort of thing. Guys are there to say ‘Hi,’ and ask you how things are going. So it’s sort of that same family atmosphere on both ends, which makes it really easy for me and I’m really fortunate to be part of an organization where it’s like that.” 

The soft-spoken sociology and religious studies grad from the University of Virginia—has had his name on Cavs news releases nearly as often this year as LeBron James. In Harris’ case, though, each one announces he’s heading to Canton; no, recalled to Cleveland; OK, back to Canton. 

Sometimes on the same day. 

The idea behind the dozens of reassignments is to get him more playing time and work on defense from Cavs-trained coaches in the Developmental League—while giving the 23-year-old shooting guard real-game exposure to the NBA. 

And the 6’6” Harris says knew what to expect when he was drafted 10 months ago in the second round. And within a month it was even clearer as the Cavs started fitting in some other pieces – think LeBron and Kevin Love. 

“I knew as soon as we added certain guys and started bringing in some serious talent to contend and compete for a championship, that I was probably going to be playing a lot more – or have more of an opportunity to come down and play in Canton.” 

Still, as recently as Wednesday, Harris was playing in the highest of high energy sports arenas: The Q, where tickets are running upwards of $800 for first round playoff seats. That’s a hundred times the price of tickets to the D-League Eastern Conference finals at the Canton Memorial Civic Center Sunday night. 

Pointing to his folding chair, Rocell Jackson prefers the view in Canton. 

“Because these are my season tickets seats right here on the floor. In Cleveland, I’d be up in the bleachers looking way down with my binoculars.” 

Tim and Jim Shumaker agree. And they enjoy the view even more when Harris makes one of his many trips from Cleveland to Canton. 

We’ll take him whenever the Cavs want to send him down. He’s a good player, he’s a good shot. He plays the game right. He’s a team player. All things being equal, I think he’d rather be in Cleveland right now, but he’ll get there eventually.” 

Besides, adds Debbie Wilfong…“He’s really cute.” 

When pressed, Harris acknowledges some behind-the-scenes contrasts between Canton and Cleveland. Cleveland has two full practice courts, a yoga room, a chef and locker-room barber chairs. Canton has some really comfortable Lay-Z-Boys. The Cavs have team planes. The Charge – about 20 guys, 6 foot and over – head to the Dakotas and Texas on commercial airlines – or to Fort Wayne on a bus. 

But Harris says it’s not fair to compare. 

“It might not be a flashy and nice on the outside, but for what they have, they make the most out of it and make it nice and accommodating for you as well.” 

And besides, he says, he’s not there for the ambiance. He’s there to learn. 

His Canton teammate James Singleton – who’s played with the Clippers, Mavs, Wizards and a couple teams in China – says Harris is learning fast. 

“Joe he comes in and does exactly what he needs every single time. NBA teams weren’t very big on the D-league, coaches weren’t. But prime example, as you see, guys can go to the NBA, come down to the D-League and it gives them a chance and more exposure, more repetition to get ready for the next level.” 

The next level for Joe Harris is back up to Cleveland, where he averaged 9.7 minutes and 2.7 points per game during the regular season. He expects his role in the playoffs will be essentially the same – suit up and come into games when leads are comfortable, the Cavs can relax and he can learn.

What will change – at least now that the Charge season is done – is no more treks down to Canton. And back again. Over and over.