Long road for Richmond star to reach NBA

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Justin Harper has always had basketball in his blood.  But it took him awhile to realize that basketball was his destiny. Thursday the University of Richmond product and the Meadowbrook graduate is expected to be taken in the NBA Draft.

Harper is projected to be a late first or early second round pick in the draft. He was one of 60 players invited to the NBA Pre-Draft Camp in Chicago, and had personal visits with 10 NBA teams (Spurs, Pacers, Bulls, Celtics, Rockets, Thunder, Sixers, Nets, Knicks and Mavericks).

Harper doesn't have a preference on where he'll go in the draft, but does say he'd like to go in the first round.

Despite being the son of a high school and college basketball hall-of-famer, Harper was not great at the sport at a young age.  Harper got cut three times from his middle school basketball team, as he dealt with pain in his back and knees as he grew too fast for parts of his body to catch up.  Dedicated to the school band and his schoolwork, Harper did not commit himself to basketball until he started playing AAU ball in eighth grade. He continued to improve, and made varsity at Meadowbrook High School as a junior.  That year he was the sixth man for John Gordon III's team.  His senior year he averaged 20 points and 14 rebounds a game.

Harper stayed close in college - choosing the University of Richmond over Providence College. But he did not reach his full potential until his senior year.  In fact, he was not on many draft radars at this time last year.  But he spent extra time this summer working with scouts and coaches in Boston, and turned that into a breakout season.  Harper made the All Atlantic-10 First Team, and has put himself into the NBA discussion.

At 6'10", Harper obviously has the size to play in the NBA.  The question for many teams is at what position.  Scouts would like to play him at the power forward position, but Harper would need to bulk up, and become more of a banger to defend against players that have much more girth than him.

Harper is pretty positive that he'll hear his name called on Thursday night.  He's just hoping it's a place that he can play a meaningful part of the team right away.  If not, he'll just keep working hard, like he's always done.

Copyright 2011 WWBT NBC12. All rights reserved.