From late 2010 to the summer of 2016, Joe Harris played professional basketball around the globe.
The former Coastal Carolina star’s multitude of teams included Cader, B.C. Prievidza, the Salon Vilpas Vikings, Bakken Bears and Ovarense Aerosoles stretching from South America to Scandinavia.
Now that he’s settled on a more permanent career and a home in Myrtle Beach, Harris’ new team is the Georgetown County Sheriff’s department.
He graduated in May from the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy and has become a sheriff’s patrol deputy in Georgetown County.
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“I thought what better way to serve your country and kind of give back and deal with people every day and help people than to patrol … and just being there for people when they need somebody,” Harris said.
Law enforcement is a natural place for Harris to land from the basketball court. Growing up with a father who served 32 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, Harris envisioned going to work for the FBI or a similar government bureau, and he later considered a career in nursing.
Coastal Carolina men’s basketball coach Cliff Ellis isn’t surprised Harris went into a field where he serves others.
“Joe Harris is one of the more dedicated players I ever coached,” Ellis said. “He was such a team player and had a strong will to win. Joe always put his team before himself. He will serve Georgetown County very well. We are lucky to have him.”
Harris is one of the best to ever play at Coastal Carolina.
He finished his career as the leading rebounder in both CCU and Big South Conference history with 1,152 rebounds, and also as the CCU leader with 134 games played and a .562 field goal percentage. He’s second in CCU history with 142 blocked shots and 205 steals.
Harris’ pro basketball dilemma coming out of college was his size and skill set. At 6-foot-4 1/2 and 195 pounds, Harris had the body of a small forward or large guard, but much of his play at CCU was as an interior player. So he had to show teams he could play as a wing on the outside.
He agreed to his first pro contract in late October 2010 with the Leicester Riders in England, seven months after finishing his college career.
“You get an agent, then your agent is shopping you out to teams figuring out where you would fit best, and for me it took longer than most people,” Harris said. “Nobody knew what position I played. At Coastal most of the time I was at forward, which I’m obviously undersized for when you’re playing in bigger leagues and playing against professionals.”
Harris said his team played in a low-level league in England, so he was still trying to prove himself when he played for a short time in 2011 in Myrtle Beach for the South Carolina Warriors of the semi-pro American Basketball Association, which was coached by current Texas Tech coach Chris Beard.
“That league wasn’t that well respected so I was still at Ground Zero, so I played here and coach Beard said he’d put me on the perimeter and let me do a lot of that stuff and get some film.”
Harris signed with Cader in Uruguay in 2011 as a small forward and was able to continue his career in that position thereafter.
He would play in Slovakia with B.C. Prievidza, in Finland with the Salon Vilpas Vikings in Salo, in Denmark with the Bakken Bears in Aarhus, and in Portugal with the Ovarense Aerosoles in Ovar.
He wasn’t even aware of basketball leagues in many of the places he signed. “They’re everywhere,” Harris said. “They’d call and send you a ticket and you’re like, ‘Well, I guess I’ll see what this is like.’ ”
The most he made was $7,000 per month in Denmark over about nine months. He began at about $1,200 per month to get his career started in England, and in Slovakia he was contracted for $4,200 per month, but he said he received only about 30 percent of his due paychecks.
“Although it’s fun to play the game and you love it, you also have to make some type of financial gain,” Harris said. “I started off making a decent amount of money, then as my last couple years came around I started to make less and less and less, and my agent basically told me there were young guys who could basically do the same thing for a little bit less.
“So it started to wear on me, and it was probably time to start a legit career before I get too old and too away from school that I would need to get into a good profession.”
He enjoyed the experiences, though he said schedules were so tight he seldom had an opportunity to explore the countries he was playing in outside of the host city and nearby towns.
“I definitely enjoyed it. It was a lot of fun,” Harris said. “You usually only had one day off a week, and usually bus trips could be like anywhere from 6 to 8 hours long and you’re going that day and coming back that same day. . . . The time you did get off you basically just wanted to rest, so we really didn’t get to see much or travel much unless it was in that city and we got there early and walked around a little bit.”
Harris said soccer was the biggest sport in the countries he played, and volleyball and even handball were sometimes more popular than basketball. Aarhus, Denmark had the largest attendance at games, he said, with an average of more than 4,000 spectators and high of more than 7,000.
“For the most part you’d get a couple thousand at games on good nights,” said Harris, who played in mid-major leagues, never reaching the top international leagues in places such as France and Spain. “The only time you’d get a lot of people were rivalry games or playoff games.”
Harris wanted a career in which he could help people. A consideration late in college was nursing, which is the profession of his brother, John Jr. With a year of eligibility remaining after graduating from CCU with a Health Promotion degree and a minor in Biology, he transferred to Alabama-Birmingham in 2009 to end his career and enter its graduate nursing program.
He said he ended up being enrolled in the wrong program – Women’s Studies rather than Nursing – had a change of heart and returned to CCU for one last season, helping the Chants win a school-record 28 games and earn an NIT berth.
To me it kind of seems like it’s the same because they both deal with helping people, in different aspects, like in a totally different area.
Joe Harris on the careers of nursing and law enforcement
Harris is back in school, currently at Horry-Georgetown Technical College wrapping up an associate’s degree this month that will allow him to pursue a second undergraduate degree in criminal justice, which he expects to achieve within the next two years. That will allow him to further his law enforcement career.
“It all goes back to my childhood dream,” Harris said. “I’m hoping to finish school, get maybe two or three years of work experience with this, then apply for the FBI or DEA, whichever one will have me.”
Harris’ father, John Harris Sr., was stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C., during Harris’ time at CCU. In his 32-year Marine career, he had a pair of two-year independent duty stations in Okinawa, Japan and one in Cuba, participated in Operation Desert Storm in 1991 and had tours in both Afghanistan and Iraq. He retired as a Master Gunnery Sergeant.
“The one thing I took from my dad is it showed me what kind of commitment and work ethic you had to have to make it things that you were passionate about,” Harris said. “He was so dead set on making sure we had what we needed to be successful, he was willing to go away, go to war, take two-year independent duty stations to continue his career so we could have a better life.”
Harris exhibited a similar commitment on the basketball court in college and traveling around the world, and will undoubtedly bring the same passion to his job in Georgetown County.