Ron Harper Jr. committed to Rutgers basketball with a two-star rating and a famous name.
He leaves with 1,525 collegiate points, 68 victories, three winning seasons, two NCAA Tournament appearances, the most memorable shot in program history and, most important, his own distinct legacy as a cornerstone figure in the Scarlet Knights’ rise from the ashes.
The senior forward declared for the NBA Draft Wednesday, forgoing his fifth year of eligibility as expected. He also said goodbye to the community that he helped build and that returned the favor by embracing him fully.
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“The last four years have been nothing short of a dream come true,” Harper posted on social media. “I’ve made countless relationships that will last a lifetime. I watched the RAC / JMA transform into the nation’s best home-court advantage. It’s simple. The fans are the reason! These are the fans that have embraced me since I stepped onto the Rutgers campus in 2018. They are the best fans in college basketball, hands down. “
The former Don Bosco Prep standout is tied for 12th in scoring in Rutgers history, matching another Jersey-grown star, Franklin’s Roy Hinson. His half-court buzzer-beater that stunned top-ranked Purdue in December will be replayed for as long as the program exists.
He and fellow senior Caleb McConnell, whose decision on the fifth-year remains unknown, are the first Rutgers players to experience three straight winning seasons since the early 1990s. They helped end a 30-year NCAA Tournament drought and recorded the program’s first Big Dance win since 1983.
How does Harper project as an NBA Draft prospect?
“I think he’s got the legitimate chance to be drafted between 40-60, certainly a two-way if he goes undrafted,” one NBA talent evaluator who has scouted him extensively said. “I will be surprised if he’s not invited to the (NBA scouting) combine. If not, he will at least get invited to the G-League portion of the combine. “
The scout said the question marks for Harper are his fitness (“it looked like he wore down toward the end of games”) and the consistency of his 3-point shot, which improved markedly as a senior.
“Teams are going to wonder if he’s really the 40 percent shooter he showed this year or the 31 percent shooter of his first three years,” the scout said. “He does have that funky lower release from his chest di lui.”
But, the scout said, “he’s a better athlete than people think.” And the intangibles are all in place: high basketball IQ, solid defender with good length, unselfish passer, good teammate and citizen.
No matter what happens in June’s draft and beyond, Harper’s high place in the Rutgers hoops pantheon is secure.
“In over 30 years of coaching I have never had a player on and off the court like Ron Harper Jr.,” Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said. “Ron has been the perfect ambassador for the Rutgers men’s basketball team these last four years. He came here when we were only talking about the things that we wanted to accomplish like making the NCAA Tournament. He’s given Rutgers fans some of the best moments in school history and helped lead us to three-straight NCAA Tournament bids. I truly believe that his best basketball is ahead of him. “
Jerry Carino has covered the New Jersey sports scene since 1996 and the college basketball beat since 2003. He is an Associated Press Top 25 voter. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.