“It was quite the trip. We stopped in Medicine Hat and visited the largest tipi in the world. It was awesome.” ~ Demitri Harris
By Sam Laskaris
A lengthy drive halfway across the country has paid huge dividends for Vancouver’s Demitri Harris.
As a result, the 26-year-old, whose father Frank is Ojibwe, has been forced to change his nickname.
People used to call him Semi Demi. That’s because the highest level he had played basketball at was in the semi-pro ranks. But now, they simply call him Demi. The shortened nickname was necessitated because Harris inked a deal this past week to play with the Charlottetown-based Island Storm.
The Storm competes in the professional National Basketball League of Canada, which is more commonly called NBL Canada. Harris had originally hoped to impress NBL Canada officials at a league-wide tryout camp in his hometown, but when that event was cancelled, he ended up embarking on a 30-hour drive to another camp, in mid-October, which was held in Winnipeg.
“It was quite the trip,” Harris said. “We stopped in Medicine Hat and visited the largest tipi in the world. It was awesome.”
Harris, a 6-foot-6-inch forward, obviously impressed Storm officials enough that they offered him his first pro contract.
“I’m looking to use this as a stepping stone,” Harris said, adding his immediate focus will be on helping the P.E.I.-based Storm.
“I really want to head over to Europe and play there. I want to see the world.”
He realizes he may never crack the roster of an NBA squad, but Harris, who prides himself on his hustle and his ability to thwart opponents’ offence with his solid defensive game, is still hopeful he just might be able to earn a spot with a club in the development NBA’s D-League.
As for Storm officials, not only are they hoping Harris will help them on the court but they’re also hoping to capitalize on his Native heritage.
“There’s a couple of very large Mi’kmaq communities that are within an hour-and-a-half drive from Charlottetown,” said Brett Poirier, the Storm’s vice-president of business operations. “Already a number of people have been in touch with us asking when they will be able to see him play.” Harris’ chances of seeing his share of action is buoyed by the rule that all NBL Canada franchises must dress four Canadian-born players for each game. The Storm will kick off its regular season campaign at home on Dec. 26 versus the Saint John Riptide. The upcoming NBL Canada season will feature 10 entrants. Besides Saint John, the Storm will be in the five-squad Atlantic Division along with the Cape Breton Highlanders, Moncton Miracles and Halifax Hurricanes. There’s also a five-club Central Division comprised entirely of Ontario franchises. They are the Windsor Express, London Lightning, Orangeville A’s, Niagara River Lions and KW (Kitchener/Waterloo) Titans. Harris is no stranger, however, to the east coast. He played a couple of seasons, from 2009 to 2011, at St. Mary’s University in Halifax. He left the school after two seasons.
“It was a bit of a culture shock for me,” he said of his university experience. “I was too focused on basketball and on partying. I didn’t take (the schooling) seriously.”
Since leaving school, Harris has toiled for a pair of semi-pro squads. First he had a stint with the Vancouver Balloholics in the American Basketball Association.
And more recently he has suited up for another Vancouver club called SB Battle.
Harris has also held a couple of different jobs. For the past seven years he has worked as a youth basketball coach for the Vancouver-based Real Basketball League.
And for the past three years he’s also been a youth worker for a program called After School Adventures.
Earlier this year, however, he decided to make some lifestyle changes in order to try and make a go of it in pro basketball.
He began drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana when he was 15. He no longer smokes drugs and does not drink excessively.
“I still have a beer once in a while,” he said. “But I’m not drinking out of the bottle.”
Harris added he had turned to booze and drugs as a coping mechanism.
“I was self-medicating before to control certain things in my life,” he said. “But now I find other ways to medicate myself like through prayer and meditation.”
Poirier said Storm officials are keen to see how Harris develops during his first pro campaign.
“He’s a high-energy guy and we are keen to get him in here and see what he is capable of doing for us,” he said.
Harris will leave Vancouver on Dec. 8 to head to the Storm training camp.
Slamdunkcontest: Demitri Harris competes in the Slam Duck Contest at West Edmonton Mall hosted and judged by NBA player Jrue Holiday of the New Orleans Pelicans. (Photo: Mack Lamoureux)