New Mexico State guard AJ Harris on the first day of Aggies practice Tuesday at the Pan American Center. Las Cruces Sun-News
LAS CRUCES - AJ Harris has embraced the quarterback role for the New Mexico State men's basketball team.
As the Aggies' lone returning starter from last season - and one of just four returning scholarship players - the redshirt junior point guard will be expected to run NM State's offense, and set the Aggies up on defense, again this season. He's always been a leader and as NM State has a lot of younger players in 2018-19, the leadership role is the biggest Harris thing said he is trying comprehend.
"Just being a leader, doing what I am supposed to do in practice, getting my young guys together and being a leader out there on the floor," Harris said.
The 5-foot-9 Harris has shown to be fearless out on the court and he's grasped the point guard role, which NM State head coach Chris Jans has said in the past is the hardest position in the Aggies' system.
Harris was a major part of NM State's 28-6 season last year and helped the Aggies to Western Athletic Conference regular season and tournament championships and a NCAA Tournament appearance.
The Dayton, Ohio, native averaged 8.6 points, 2.6 rebounds and 3.3 assists last season and averaged 9.4 points, 2.9 assists and 1.9 rebounds per game in conference play in being named to the All-WAC Newcomer team. Harris could be on the Preseason All-WAC team when it is announced later in October.
But when you watch Harris play, you see how critical he is in being the Aggies' floor general and a lot of his efforts don't show up in the statsheet.
Harris said he improved a lot in the offseason and put a lot more weight on his body.
New Mexico State head coach Chris Jans on first day of Aggies basketball practice on Tuesday at the Pan American Center. Las Cruces Sun-News
"Staying in the gym and getting my jump shot ready, improving my jump shot," Harris said. "More running and getting my body ready for this season and improving my jump shot more and more every day."
Jans said Harris has one of the more vocal leaders in practice, along with junior point guard Shunn Buchanan.
"Both our point guards have really emerged as good leaders," Jans said. "Shunn Buchanan was primarily a backup last year, but I have always complimented him on his vocalness in practice and his leadership ability. Now with a year under his belt, he's really worked on his body and worked on his game. Him and AJ are our here battling every day.
"They're both really good leaders in their own right and the fact that they're juniors is really exciting for me and the staff because we have that position covered for two years."
Prior to this season, Harris had played for three different head coaches in three years in playing for Thad Matta at Ohio State his freshman year before transferring to NM State to play under former Aggie head coach Paul Weir prior to the 2016-17 season. Harris had to sit out the season under Weir due to NCAA Division I transfer rules, but as Jans enters his second season at NM State, Harris, and the rest of the Aggies returners, have the benefit of playing for the same head coach two years in a year.
Last year, everyone was learning Jans' system, but now Harris and the returners and can teach the new players Jans' system since they have played in it for a season.
"It helps us a lot because they have been here two years and it helps us to help our young guys as well to teach them how Coach Jans taught us," Harris said. "It's really a stepping stone."
Mark Rudi can be reached at 575-541-5455, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @mrudi19.