KT Harrell is no stranger to the being the underdog.
He played the role in high school and during his time at Auburn and said he relishes the opportunity to play it again in his transition to the NBA.
“One of the things I’ve dealt with my entire life is being overlooked,” Harrell said. “Even this year, not making first team All-SEC, not being invited to the (NBA) Combine, those things don’t bother me, but I don’t forget them. I just use them as motivation. I wasn’t always the most talented, I just stayed in the gym and worked and that’s what I still do.”
One of the first people to notice Harrell’s potential was Chauncey Shines, basketball coach at Brewbaker Tech in Montgomery.
“I met KT when he got to Brewbaker as a seventh grader,” Shines said. “As a seventh grader I knew he was talented enough to play college basketball. I had no idea that he would work as hard as he’s worked. He wasn’t really that big then, but once he grew into the body that he has now, I pretty much knew as a 10th grader that he was going to be something special.”
Harrell, who led the SEC in scoring last season at 18.5 points per game, graduated from Auburn in December 2014 with a degree in psychology.
He said that he grew as a person and as a player because of his great mentors, including his dad, who played professional basketball in Europe, and his coaches at Auburn.
“My dad had a really direct impact on me, especially when I was younger,” Harrell said. Now that I’m on my own and am trying to find my own way, he still calls to check up on me. We just talk about life. Coach Chuck (Person) and Coach (Bruce) Pearl definitely had a big impact on my life, not only on the court but off the court, as well. The biggest lesson I learned from them was that you have to work for whatever you want in life in order to be successful. Nothing is going to be handed to me.”
The NBA Draft process has proven that point for Harrell.
He is not expected to be a top pick in the draft, which will be held in Brooklyn, New York, on June 25.
He is not on NBA Draft expert Chad Ford’s Top 100 prospects list, but Harrell said he is determined to prove his worth on the court.
“People are entitled to their own opinion,” Harrell said. “I’m just going to work as hard as I can and let everyone think what they want. It will all pan out because at the end of the day it’s all about who is going to work the hardest and who is going to perform when they get out on the floor.”
Shines said Harrell’s work ethic was evident as soon as the shooting guard transferred to Brewbaker Technology Magnet High School as a junior.
“Some rules in Montgomery and Alabama made it not possible for him to play his junior year,” Shines said. “But during that year he made our team so much better because of the competition that he gave us in practice. He showed up to every practice and worked as hard as everybody there, even though he was not going to play in a game.”
Auburn forward Jordon Granger said a great work ethic is one of many things Harrell will bring to an NBA team.
“His best skill is his work ethic,” Granger said. “He has the greatest work ethic out of any player I’ve seen in a long time. KT [also] brings toughness and a deep shooting threat.”
Granger also noted Harrell’s value off the court.
“KT is a very unselfish person,” Granger said. “He’s always willing and ready to break an arm and a leg to make sure his teammate has a ride somewhere or is doing well in practice. He’s always checking up on everybody. He’s a good player and a good teammate.”
Despite not receiving much attention from draft analysts, Harrell has drawn plenty of interest from NBA teams themselves.
“My first tryout was for the (Houston) Rockets,” Harrell said. “It went really well. It was a great experience, and I shot the ball really well. I have workouts with the (San Antonio) Spurs and the (Miami) Heat next week, and I’m supposed to work out with the (Utah) Jazz in June.”
Many teams are interested in Harrell because of his shooting ability, as he shot just over 43 percent from behind the 3-point line his senior year at Auburn.
“I can score the ball, I can shoot the ball, and I can spread the floor,” Harrell said. “Being able to shoot the ball is going to help me make a lot of money playing basketball. There aren’t a lot of people that can shoot at a very high level and I know that’s something I can do.”
Shines said Harrell’s shot is one of the best he’s seen.
“I think he’s probably one of the best shooters in the country now from 3-point range and mid-range,” Shines said.
Shines also said that there is no limit on how good Harrell can be at the NBA level.
“I always thought that (KT) would be a much better college basketball player than a high school basketball player,” Shines said. “But also, his game is much better suited for the NBA. He will explode in the NBA because he’s built better for the NBA than for college basketball.”
Regardless of what happens on draft night and beyond, Harrell said he plans to remember when he was the underdog.
Harrell said he wants to use his experience to help others with the same situation in their own lives.
“My motivation is a little different,” Harrell said. “The most important thing in my life is my faith in God, and I know God has given me these talents to be able to help other people. I have to maximize my gifts so that I can help others. I want to be able to tell people my story and how I became successful and ultimately, influence other people. I’m not a guy on draft boards, I’m not a big-name guy. But if I get [to the NBA], God-willing, I’ll have a story to tell and hopefully my story will have a big influence on other people.”