Bruce Weber landed the highest-rated recruit of his Kansas State tenure on Sunday when Malek Harris, a 6-foot-7 small forward from Orland Park, Ill., chose the Wildcats over Virginia Tech and Gonzaga.
Harris is a four-star prospect and the 80th-ranked player in the 2014 recruiting class, according to Rivals. He is the first top 150 recruit to sign with K-State since Weber took over as coach in 2012. He rounds out a three-man recruiting class, which includes shooting guard Tre Harris and junior college forward Stephen Hurt.
"I am excited to be a Wildcat and I can't wait to get there," Harris said in a phone interview. "Hopefully we can do some great things. I believe we can."
Malek Harris was one of the top unsigned recruits in the nation, and his late addition will bolster a K-State roster that features four returning starters as well as touted transfers Justin Edwards and Brandon Bolden. Harris originally committed to Marquette, but he reopened his recruitment when coach Buzz Williams left Marquette for Virginia Tech.
“To get a player of his quality this late in the signing period is a real nice pick-up for us,” Weber said in a statement released by K-State. “... Malek definitely gives us an athletic and versatile forward to help replace Shane (Southwell). He also provides some depth to help Nino (Williams) and our bigs. His athleticism and length give him the opportunity to play several different positions.”
Harris took an official visit to K-State last month and saw a future with the Wildcats.
“Kansas State is a team with a lot of strengths and high expectations for next year," said Mike Mullins, who coached Harris for the Illinois Wolves AAU basketball program. "They have a lot of returning good players. Malek is a guy who wants to come in and help a team win right away. He has been part of a successful team and he has won before. Now he wants to be a contributing factor for a winning college program and help it make a run."
Harris should compete for playing time as a freshman. He sees himself fitting in best on the wing.
"The coaches and I have talked most about the three spot," Harris said. "I will be playing with Wesley (Iwundu). I know it's going to work. I enjoy playing on the wing, but I am versatile. I like playing point, because I get to think a lot more. I like to post up and do different things."
Harris said he chose K-State for two main reasons: its family atmosphere and Weber's success with freshmen. He privately committed to K-State coaches three weeks ago, but waited until Sunday to publicly announce his decision and honor his mom on Mother's Day.
The Wildcats won 20 games last season while starting Marcus Foster and Iwundu and playing Jevon Thomas and Nigel Johnson as freshmen. All four contributed in various ways, but none were as highly rated as Harris coming out of high school.
"I'm not going to say it's going to be an effortless transition. It's college basketball, and I need to learn different things, but I am confident," Harris said. "They play a motion offense and they allow you to be aggressive. You can get the boards and push and then create mismatches and just attack."
Weber said he wanted to find a tall, versatile player with K-State’s final open scholarship and that is exactly what he got. Mullins said Harris played all five positions for the Wolves and is capable of creating mismatches in the paint and on the perimeter.
“He moves extraordinarily well for his size,” Mullins said. “At 6-7, he can guard a 6-1 guy or bring a 6-10 guy out and spread the floor. He has bounce on the perimeter and he can go inside. That creates natural mismatches that we have tried to exploit. He is not a guy who stands around on the outside and doesn’t handle the ball. You can use him in any situation.”
His biggest upside may be on defense.
“He can guard a guard and he can guard a big or a wing,” Mullins said. “Not many guys have that versatility defensively. That is the biggest strength of his game.”
K-State associate head coach Chris Lowery helped Weber recruit Harris. Mullins said both coaches know how to play to his strengths.
“He plays with a great basketball IQ and has a high motor,” Mullins said. “For 6-7, he has really great feet. He can guard the one through the four with his wingspan and anticipation. On offense, he can handle the ball really well and he is a great passer. Those are skills that transfer to college.”