“I consider this place part of me”

Ron Harper Jr. to be himself is to be loyal. He played at a high school – Don Bosco Prep in New Jersey – on an AAU team – coached by his mother Maria – and at a university. He was an underrated two-star recruit that head coach Steve Pikiell wanted. And Harper Jr. wanted to help build a program in his home state that helped bring top 100 Jersey rookies Paul Mulcahy and Cliff Omoruyi to Rutgers.

“I could never imagine myself going out there and playing a college game with another name on your chest, in any other jersey in any other state,” he said. “This place feels like home to me.”

Dayton has a second home feel. Harper Jr. visited the city at least once a year during his grandmother’s lifetime. But it’s the first time since he was in eighth grade. Members and friends of the Harper family are sure to be in the arena on Wednesday night when Rutgers play Notre Dame at 9:10 p.m. But Harper Jr. doesn’t know how many. He said others were handling the tickets and his dad told everyone to let Ron Jr. be.

“It’s a place close to my heart, and I have a lot of family here, so it’s great to be back here,” said Harper Jr. “All roads kind of lead home . I consider this place a big part of me.

Dayton recalls are never too far from Harper Jr. teammate Caleb McConnell, who came to Rutgers as a rookie with Harper Jr., played at Dunbar High School his freshman year and played at UD Arena . Harper’s father also performed in the arena, but this is the first time for Harper Jr.

McConnell said some of his older cousins ​​and uncles grew up around Ron Harper and played basketball with him.

“They know Ron’s family very well,” McConnell said. “It’s kind of funny how me and Ron went to the same school, and both of our families are from here. It’s just crazy how life brings us full circle.

While the attention surrounding Harper Jr. this week is about his father and his presence at Dayton, he says he wouldn’t be here without his mother. Maria Harper played college basketball at the University of New Orleans and coached its AAU team. After 15 NBA seasons in Cleveland, Chicago and Los Angeles, Ron Harper was ready to spend time outside the gyms.

“I feel like my dad would agree when I say my mom inspires me more,” Harper Jr. said. “He really gave my mom the keys so she could teach me how to playing basketball, but he was always there for advice. She always made sure I knew I was good enough. Without her, none of this is possible for me.

The basketball lines, however, do not end with Harper Jr. His brother Dylan is a sophomore at Don Bosco Prep. Harper Jr. is also following his father’s example in his relationship with his little brother. Just as he heard from his father, Ron Jr. tells his brother that he will be a better player.

“I tell him all the time that I want him to be better than me at everything he does,” Harper Jr. said. “That boy is way better than me.”

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