Late in the first quarter of a Feb. 23 outing against Cleveland, Orlando Magic coach Jacque Vaughn turned toward the bench.
“ Tobias!” Vaughn yelled.
Tobias Harris peeled out of his seat in a hurry in his first game with the team, scrambling toward the scorer’s table.
“I told myself, ‘OK, this is it. You’re getting a chance here. Take advantage of it,” Harris remembered, recounting the game five months later.
The former Tennessee one-and-done star from 2010-11 saw nearly 25 minutes of action against the Cavaliers that night. Fourteen points and six rebounds resulted. He had averaged 4.8 minutes per outing during the previous 14 games before a six-player trade brought him to the Magic from the Milwaukee Bucks.
That February night was a sign of things to come.
Over the season’s final 27 games, Harris blossomed into a starter — averaging 17.3 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game. He scored 344 points in 70 career games with Milwaukee. In less than two months with Orlando he scored 974.
After the Magic took a chance on Harris, Harris took advantage of the playing time a young team like Orlando provided.
“Things happen for a reason and coming here has been a blessing,” Harris said.
Heading into his third NBA season, Harris is making up for a career started in earnest. He showed the potential that lurks within him in a flurry of flashes with the Magic — a 27-point, 10-rebound outing against Houston; a 30-point, 11-rebound effort against Washington; a 30-point, 12-rebound payback to Milwaukee.
And yet, in a summer chat with the News Sentinel, Harris focused on next season. He prefaced his aspirations with how thankful he is for last season, but concluded, “I really think I can be a break-out performer next year.”
Hey, Tobias, most think the breakout came last year.
“I think that was just giving them a taste,” Harris said.
That ought to reassure an Orlando franchise trying to unplug its feet from the muck of the NBA basement.
The Magic posted a league-worst 20 wins last year. They were dreadful. How dreadful? That Cleveland team Harris debuted in Orlando against — the same one that picked first overall in the 2013 NBA draft just ahead of Orlando’s No. 2 pick — thumped the Magic by 24.
“It was hard, the losing, but there are a lot of guys trying to prove themselves here,” Harris said. “That’s what kept us going through the end. We were trying to win every game.”
The “us” Harris refers to is Orlando’s stockpile of youthful cogs.
“All us young guys are on the same page,” Harris said. “There’s a lot of work to be done, but I’m excited to be a part of this.”
The trade deadline shakeup that brought Harris to Orlando left the Magic with five rookies and three second-year players. Against Cleveland that night, he watched a starting lineup of rookies Maurice Harkless and Andrew Nicholson, second-year players Nik Vucevic and E’Twaun Moore and one old man, veteran Arron Afflalo.
The postgame column from Orlando Sentinel columnist Brian Schmitz called the Magic, “An NBA Developmental team stationed in an NBA city, not Sioux Falls.”
From last year’s roster, veterans Afflalo, Beno Udrih, Hedo Turkoglu and Al Harrington are either gone or likely going. The four account for 43 years of NBA experience.
With that, Glen Davis, Jameer Nelson and recently signed free agent Jason Maxiell are Orlando’s only players with an NBA career beginning prior to 2010-11. Nine current players were born in 1989 or later.
Though perhaps discouraging for Magic season ticketholders, it’s an ideal scenario for Harris. Once a question mark in Milwaukee, he’s a building block in Orlando.
Which makes 2013-14 all the more important. Harris, though he shies away from conversations about his future, has two years left on his rookie contract and will be a restricted free agent in 2015. A big payday could be imminent if he proves last season’s second half wasn’t a mirage.
“I don’t think about that,” Harris said. “I still have a lot to prove. That’s why I’m working so hard this offseason. I can’t take anything for granted.”
That lesson was learned early in the 21-year-old’s NBA career. Harris could have frothed with anger as he languished on the Milwaukee bench. He was a nonentity before being shipped to Orlando.
It all changed rapidly.
Now Harris is in control. Next season, he’ll try to take advantage of a whole new set of chances.
“I look at it like this: I’m a professional and this is my job,” Harris said. “I didn’t let myself get frustrated or mad (in Milwaukee). I kept working and it paid off. That was important and I learned from it.”
Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men’s basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/B FQuinn