'Keep working and you can make it happen'

CENTRAL VALLEY. NBA star and M-W varsity player’s similar heart conditions offer a lesson of perseverance.

Aug 02 2019 | 01:42 PM

Although one is a professional NBA star and the other is a varsity player at Monroe-Woodbury High School, Jeff Green and Jack Harris have had a similar journey.

Harris, a rising senior, has always had a passion for basketball since he was young, and it’s had a great impact on his life.

“Basketball has allowed me to meet so many people I would have never known if it weren’t for the sport, and some of my coaches have acted as role models for me through the year,” he said. “Also, some of my old and current teammates have become some of my closest friends, and we would have never met if it weren’t for basketball.”

However, basketball has also taught Harris life lessons on perseverance and determination, especially after he underwent open heart surgery this past spring.

“I’ve always known the day would come where I’d have to have surgery, but it came as a shock when I found out my sophomore year that I’d have to do it,” Harris said. “I always looked at this whole thing as a minor setback, but after four months of recovery, I finally got back on the court.”

With his AAU coach, Sal DeAngelo, Harris trained at Gym Ratz in the Village of Florida for the summer to get ready for the school season.

“I struggle every time with things I used to be able to do with no problem,” Harris said. “Now, it’s a little over a year later and I’m feeling great—I feel as though I’ve gotten over the hump and have started to make huge strides in where I want to ultimately be.”

Jeff Green, the current Utah Jazz forward, also underwent a similar procedure in 2012, allowing him to also safely continue to continue his basketball career.

“I found out online that Green as well had open heart surgery, so me and my dad found where we could contact him and we sent him an email,” said Harris. “He answered a few days later and sent a box full of cool stuff. We kept in contact and he invited me and my family to come to one of his games.”

This spring, Harris and his family met the basketball star in Madison Square Garden before the Knicks/Jazz game.

“The whole thing is kind of a blur looking back on it,” Harris said. “But I’ll never forget what he told me, he said, ‘Keep working, and you can make it happen.”’

Harris will be the first to tell anyone that Green’s words ring true: Hard work and dedication are the keys to success and fulfillment in life.

“This journey has taught me so much,” said Harris, who plans to major in physical education in college. “It has changed me in ways I could have never imagined and it had made me a stronger person. It is such a blessing that I am still able to play the sport I love and to continue to do what I do.”

And, of course, he’ll still be playing basketball.