- Last Updated: 4:17 PM, June 18, 2012
- Posted: 1:54 AM, June 18, 2012
When Mark Jackson was leading St. John’s to consecutive NCAA Tournaments in the mid-1980s, he would dress for every game in a suit and tie.
Jackson would say his jersey was his work clothes and his suit was his play clothes. He was wise beyond his years, a pro before he became a pro.
Jackson, now the coach of the Golden State Warriors, will see a vision of himself next season. It will be in the form of a lanky rookie, also from New York.
His name is Maurice Jose Harkless, and long before he got to St. John’s the Queens native was handling his business.
“One of the first real conversations I had with Moe, I realized how mature and calculating he is,’’ Dan Barto, the head skills trainer at IMG Academy in Florida, where Harkless has been preparing for the June 28 NBA Draft, told The Post.
“He was telling me his goals, and he said he expects to achieve them. He told me there really isn’t a goal he hasn’t achieved. When he got to St. John’s and there were all these other top recruits, he was their best player.
“He told me there was another kid in his prep school, Ricky Ledo, who a lot of people were talking about. Moe ran him out of the school. He just put it in his mind that he was going to go after that kid every day on the court. Moe doesn’t say a lot, but don’t be fooled. He’s a tough, mature, calculating kid.’’
Harkless, 19, is about to realize a child’s dream — hearing his name called as an NBA pick, likely in the first round by commissioner David Stern.
Harkless, a 6-foot-8, 220-pound small forward, left St. John’s after one of the most impressive freshman seasons in Big East Conference history. He won Big East Rookie of the Year, set a record with 32 points in his conference debut and averaged 15.5 points and 8.6 rebounds despite playing out of position at power forward and center.
Several mock drafts have Harkless going 20th to the Nuggets, but his stock has been rising as he works out for NBA teams. They see a prospect who has added some 15 pounds of muscle since he played his last college game, and they hear a young man speak with cool, calculated maturity.
“Moe had as mature a bearing, temperament and disposition as any freshman I’ve ever coached,’’ said Red Storm coach Steve Lavin. “The first time I met him, it struck me that he had a certain regal presence.’’
Barto, who raved about Iman Shumpert to anyone who would listen, said he sees a lot of Kevin Durant in Harkless, both in his game and disposition. That bearing has served Harkless well.
Immediately after declaring for the draft, Harkless left Queens for Bradenton. He returned only once, to celebrate his birthday on May 11. Even that took some prodding.
At IMG, the players work full days Monday to Friday and a half-day Saturday. Saturday afternoons and Sundays are optional shooting days. For Harkless, it wasn’t an option — it was a mandate.
“He went 15 straight days without a day off,’’ said Harkless’s mentor, Nate Blue. “I was speaking to him on the phone a few days before his birthday, and you could hear it in his voice. I said, ‘Come home, see your family, it’s one weekend.’ He said, ‘It’s one less to get ready.’ I told him, ‘You’ll be ready.’ ’’
Harkless came home and barely went out. His birthday gifts included a watch from his mother, some clothes and a little pocket cash. So much for living the teenage dream.
Harkless is now living the unglamorous life of a pro athlete — one committed to taking care of his body, working on his game and toughening his mental approach.
“I don’t think it’s hit me yet, but I do know this: Everything I do right now will help set me up for the rest of my life,’’ Harkless said by telephone from Boston, where he had just finished a workout for the Celtics by going up against Kentucky’s Darius Miller, Baylor’s Quincy Miller and Syracuse’s Kris Joseph.
“You can say whatever you want, that you’re going to be a pro, but you better be ready to back it up. It always comes down to hard work. If you work hard, you’ll be ready when you’re time comes.’’
The time has come. Harkless acknowledged that rarely does a day go by when he doesn’t daydream of that magical moment when his name is called, he dons the cap of the team that drafted him and walks out to shake Stern’s hand.Follow @NYPostsports