On Wednesday afternoon, Rutgers star Ron Harper Jr. announced on social media that he was declaring for the NBA Draft as expected.
In his senior season, Harper Jr. led Rutgers with 15.8 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.0 steal while shooting 44% from the floor, 40% from three-point range and 80% from the foul line. He earned Second Team All-Big Ten honors and was named an AP Honorable Mention All-American. In addition, for the second straight season Harper Jr. was named one of five finalists for the Julius Erving Award given to the top small forward in college basketball.
“In over 30 years of coaching I have never had a player on and off the court like Ron Harper Jr.,” head 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, and I am excited to see him, and his family explore the opportunity of the 2022 NBA Draft.”
In an interview with ESPN’s Jonathan Givony after declaring, Harper Jr. said, “The last few years at Rutgers were unbelievable,” he said. “Nobody would imagine we’d be where we are today when I arrived. When I came on an unofficial recruiting visit, Coach Pikiell said he wants to turn Rutgers back into a winning culture and get back to the NCAA tournament. Now, if you don’t make the tournament, it’s a failure. This has been a great journey with my teammates, coaching staff and our fans. We turned Jersey Mike’s Arena into one of the toughest places to play in college basketball. It wasn’t like that when I got here. That’s a product of what we were able to accomplish since my freshman year.”
Harper Jr. added, “I’m ready to put myself out there to get myself in the best position possible to be drafted,” Harper said. “I’m going all in.”
Despite that comment, he didn’t indicate if he has hired an agent yet or not. While it seems unlikely that Harper Jr. would return to Rutgers, he technically has one year of eligibility remaining. If he ultimately signs with an agent that is certified, it won’t impact his eligibility per an NCAA rule. It comes down to whether he withdraws from the NBA Draft by the deadline of June 1. If he does not, then Harper Jr. will officially forego his final season.
No. 24 will be remembered at Rutgers for his key role in leading the program to back to back NCAA Tournament for the first time in 46 years. In asking about his legacy following the season ending loss to Notre Dame, Harper Jr. went into detail about his time on the banks.
“Yeah, I wanted to kind of be the kid that started the trend, go to Rutgers (being from New Jersey), you can go to the NCAA Tournament,” said Harper Jr. “And I feel like I did good a job of that. But it never would have been possible without the guys to my left, my right, the guys in the locker room.”
Choking up with emotion, Harper Jr. continued in saying “Growing up, all I ever wanted was somebody to respect me, somebody to tell me I’m good enough. And I found it here at Rutgers. I found a group of guys that believed in me, that trusted me. That’s all I could ever ask for. These guys made me the player I am today. These guys made me an All-American. These guys got me all those individual accolades. It sucks it had to end like this. But I love these guys. Like Caleb said, It’s an unbreakable brotherhood.”
Harper Jr. finished by saying “We started something special up here. It’s like sitting next to the three pioneers; we did it three years in a row. I don’t care what anybody says — COVID happened, we would have been right there in the mix. We did that three years in a row. And not a lot of schools can say they did, especially not making this for 30 years. So, I’m proud of the culture that we’ve built. I’m proud of everything that we did. It sucks we came up short. But these last four years is something I’ll remember for the rest of my life and I’ll cherish and I’ll hold close to me.”
Fans will cherish their memories of Ron Harper Jr. in a Rutgers uniform forever too!