The John R. Wooden Award, which is named after the former University of California, Los Angeles, head men’s basketball coach, was created in 1976 to recognize the most outstanding men’s and women’s college basketball players, according to Rutgers Athletics. Recent winners of the Wooden Award include NBA stars such as Zion Williamson, Anthony Davis and Kevin Durant. Last season’s recipient of the award was Obi Toppin.
Harper Jr., who went to Don Bosco Preparatory High School in Ramsey, New Jersey, joins six other student-athletes from the Big Ten in consideration for the award. In his third season with the Scarlet Knights (10-6, 6-6), Harper Jr. is averaging a team-high 17.3 points per game.
Harper Jr.'s approximately 17 points per game rank sixth in the Big Ten, while his 33 three-pointers made puts him currently tied for seventh in the conference. Harper Jr. also falls inside the conference’s top 20 in rebounds per game, averaging 6.2 rebounds per contest.
“I like to think of myself as a player that can do a little bit of everything and is good at doing everything,” Harper Jr. said. “I take pride in being versatile because there is not a situation on the court that I'm uncomfortable in. I can bring the ball up, set a screen, get a rebound, defend. I like to think that I can do it all.”
Harper Jr. has seen statistical increases in all facets of the game this season. His scoring average has boosted from 12.1 points per game last season to 17.6 points per game this season, while also strengthening many of his shooting percentages.
“(Harper Jr.) is a good player. He’s the number one guy on the scouting report now too, and he’s got to understand that,” said head men’s basketball coach Steve Pikiell in a recent interview. “I’m excited about how he’s responded.”
Harper Jr. is the son of retired NBA player Ron Harper, who played 15 seasons in the NBA and won five NBA championships as a member of the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers. Harper played college basketball at Miami University.
“No matter what I do, his name will probably be attached to it for the next five, (10) years,” Harper Jr. said, according to NJ Advance Media. “But I have the opportunity to break that trend where, when they’re talking about him, my name comes up first.”
Harper Jr. and Rutgers will take the floor next on Thursday against Minnesota at the Rutgers Athletic Center.
“Rutgers is going to make a run in the NCAA Tournament, and ... Harper Jr. is a big reason why,” according to ESPNU. “He's such a versatile player. He's a matchup nightmare (due to) his size, his strength and his versatility.”
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