By Victor Manuel Ramos of NewsDay.com – Detroit Pistons forward Tobias Harris told dozens of middle school student athletes in Hempstead Wednesday that the path that took him from classrooms and basketball courts on Long Island to NBA stardom was carved by goal-setting, sheer will and persistence.

Harris told the students, gathered in the district’s Alverta B. Gray Schultz Middle School, that they too, could achieve great things if they set their minds to it and put in the effort.

“You have to have a plan to achieve, but you have to have a dream,” Tobias told them. “I never let anyone tell me … I couldn’t make it.”

Harris’ visit was part of a tour he’s going on to schools on Long Island, having visited Westbury and with stops planned in Uniondale and Wyandanch.

The 6-foot-9-inch forward drew from his experience as a varsity athlete, who in his own retelling was not always the best one on the court while growing up on Long Island. He graduated from Half Hollow Hills West in Dix Hills in 2010 and played one season for the University of Tennessee.

Harris sought to offer a reality check and inspire the students as he described his climb to become the 19th pick in the NBA’s 2011 draft.

He also emphasized how he still strives to excel. He asked students what time they got up to get to school, and told them he had been up since 6 a.m. training, and planned to return to the gym later in the day.

“To play like a pro you have to work like a pro,” he told them. “While you guys are waking up, I’m already in the gym working on my jump.”

The more than 70 students in the room were taking it all in, as Harris also stressed the importance of surrounding themselves with good friends and learning to give everyone their due respect.

They asked Harris about life and the game, and about playing with legendary basketball stars like LeBron James and Kobe Bryant.

At one point Harris approached student De’Andre Oates, a 13-year-old in seventh grade, and gave him a $20 bill. Harris then offered the student whether he’d trade it for whatever bill he had concealed in his pocket, which could be more or less. Oates traded, and he got a $50 bill instead.

Sometimes “you have to take chances” and trust yourself, Harris said.

Oates, who plays basketball, said he was motivated by the talk.

“It will help me become a better person … like with my work ethic and my academics,” Oates said.

Hank Williams, the school’s principal, used to coach Harris with an amateur team, and he jumped on the opportunity to showcase a success story for kids facing myriad challenges. The school is on the state’s list of struggling schools due to poor academic performance.

Williams said he hoped the talk would “give a seed of belief” to his students so they know “that they can achieve what they want to achieve if they work hard to do it,” whether in the classroom or on the basketball court.

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