Usal La Antigua is a lofty 5-0 in Group A-B of the Spanish pro basketball league, and there may be nobody enjoying the ride as well as Kupaa Harrison.
The former Kalaheo and UH-Hilo standout scored 27 points on 9-for-12 shooting in his team’s recent win over Consur Bezana. After beginning the season as a reserve, Harrison has moved into the starting lineup and is thriving in his first professional season. He had 19 points in his previous game against Pas Pielagos.
The 6-foot-5 wing was a two-time state champion and two-time Star-Advertiser All-State selection at Kalaheo. He joined Hawaii Prep World for a Q&A on Thursday.
On the court
HPW: What has it been like adjusting to your team’s offensive and defensive systems? What would you compare them to going back to college and high school? Does any team run flex in Spain?
KH: Offensively and defensively, it has been a strong difference in a lot of ways. From a total team standpoint our team emphasizes much more playing defense and offense as an entire team. So playing much more help defense and not sticking to your man a lot more which is much different than in college, but much more similar to the way I was taught to play in high school at Kalaheo.
There is no defensive three seconds rule in Europe so players sag off their man much more here. And in individual defense they allow a lot more hand-to-hand contact when it comes to hand-checking and guarding in the post so the game as a whole is much more physical than what I expected. On offense, at least for our team, we run a lot more 4-out, 1-in offense than what I have done the last couple of years in college and we hardly ever run any plays as isolations.
A lot of the teams here run pick-and-roll almost every play, but for our team we run a lot more pin-down and staggered screens as part of our offense. Overall, though like I said they encourage much more for you to create shots for other people and to make the extra pass versus in America and the NBA where the game is much more based on putting your best players in positions where they can score individually. I won’t say either one is better or worse, but just different.
HPW: You have always been a marksman. What are three keys to shooting mechanics that matter most whether you fly thousands of miles to another country or ride a bus for hours to a game?
KH: Shooting-wise, the three main things I would say is try to be as balanced as possible and shoot from the feet up. Whether you have a wide or narrow stance it doesn’t really matter, but a big problem with people I see and I myself have had problems with is having a flat jumper that doesn’t get over the rim. Shooting from the feet allows you to have much more arc and a firm base.
Another main thing is posture. For me I used to lean back a lot and fade without really knowing it. Doing that also once again takes you away from the rim and thus you have a tendency to shoot with a lower arc and not really have a chance to make a shot regardless of how straight your shot is.
Lastly, something that gets easy with age and just getting stronger is eliminating the thumb flick with your guide hand. Shooting with proper form often means just shooting basically with your shooting hand and having a guide hand there as support until your release. But once you start involving your guide hand and the thumb flick or pushing with both hands then you’re going to have one hand go one way and the other one throwing it off in the other direction. I would say watch guys like Klay Thompson or Duncan Robinson or Trae Young right now. They are guys I have watched and all have beautiful form overall.
HPW: Euro style ball evolved because national teams couldn’t play as athletically as Team USA in the 1990s. Now the 3-point shot is embraced in the US. Is there a difference any more or is the emphasis the same wherever you play?
KH: I think what I see is ball handling and attacking the rim with the dribble has much more emphasis in the U.S. due to having quicker and more explosive guards. Whereas here they put much more emphasis on shooting and a variety of passes to get people open. A lot of times what I see here in Europe is when guards attack their main objective is drawing help and passing whereas America it is much more about attacking to score.
HPW: Are there any significant differences strategically or tactically between American and Euro hoops?
KH: Like I said they emphasize team much more here and the overall responsibility is on the team. Like in America if you get blown by and scored on your coach will look at you and say do a better job on your man. Here they blame the first defender, but also get on the team for not helping out and being there. I also notice that with the positions here they don’t emphasize being like a distinct point guard or shooting guard or forward or center. It’s mostly just point guards, wings and bigs. And all of those positions are interchangeable and versatile.
Off the court
HPW: Who is your most personable teammate, someone who connects everyone?
KH: I would say my two roommates here, Omar Lo and Nelson Yengue, have been the people I am closest with. I think in the pros it is different because everyone who gets here is an alpha dog and at this point a grown man. So, I think there isn’t that same level of in high school or college where leadership usually comes with seniority and performance. Overall though, our team gets along very well and is well connected.
HPW: Who is your teammate with the most wisdom?
KH: I would say our point guard Sandro Gacic. He has played professional ball since he was 16 years old so even though he is still 24, he has seen a lot and been in a lot of situations and an offer great advice. Not just from a playing standpoint but also from a business and off-the-court standpoint as well.
HPW: What have been the most surprising experiences about living in Salamanca?
KH: Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to do a whole lot due to COVID and a lot of things being shut down here, but one of the cool experiences I’ve enjoyed is going down into the town plaza and exploring the city and all of its architecture and old buildings. A lot of the buildings and churches etc here are preserved and have not really been changed since when they were built like hundreds of years ago. I enjoy walking the cobble stones and people watching as well. Its all a first for me so I’m trying to soak it all in whenever I can.
HPW: How good is the meat from Salamanca, like the ones in the photos on the team Facebook page?
KH: The meats are great! They eat a lot of pork here and have every type you could imagine. And the cool thing here is they have bigger grocery stores but there are also a lot of specialized stores that only sell one type of thing. Like little hole-in-the-wall, family-type businesses that take a lot of pride in their products, such as carnicerias (meat), fruterias (fruits and veggies), panaderias (bread/bakery).
HPW: How much Spanish have you learned?
KH: I have learned a lot, especially when it comes to basketball and just slang talking. It is much different than learning in a class or book. There is no substitute for being there in person. My biggest hurdle has been how fast the people here talk. But it is getting easier and for me it is fun because I teach my teammates English and they’ll trade and teach me Spanish as well.
HPW: Are players and fans in Spain proudly provincial about the teams?
KH: Yes most definitely. We haven’t been able to have fans at our games yet, but you can tell that sports are a huge part of the peoples lives here and they have a ton of pride. We get a lot of encouragement online from fans which has been great too.
HPW: What are your favorite places and favorite foods in Salamanca?
KH: There is a couple of team sponsor restaurants that I enjoy eating at. One of my favorite dishes so far has been paella which is sort of like fried rice, but with seafood also. And in terms of favorite places, I have really enjoyed the town square and checking out the cathedral and university here.
HPW: What is your plan after the Spanish season is over?
KH: After the season my plan is to come home, take a little recovery time off and then get back to working out and trying to improving my game. This summer was very difficult because of COVID and I did not really get to properly train due to everything being closed. So I am hoping to get some solid work in if things can get back to normal and get my body to a whole different level of strength and quickness. I am also only under a one-season contract so I will be having to reevaluate that and see what my next options are based on what comes along.
HPW: Has anyone compared you to an NBA player yet? I’m thinking Tyler Herro.
KH: Believe it or not I have been compared to Tyler Herro more times than I can count. People in my family, friends, teammates all the above have said that. I think for one thing based on looks there is a lot of resemblance and then also I think playing styles. I’m honored though. I would love to be able to play like him and at his level. He is a great player to watch and study and learn things from.
Top 3 movies/programs/shows
1. “The Office.”
2. “Lord of the Rings.”
3. “Harry Potter.”
Top 3 food/snack/drink
2. Authentic taco trucks.
3. French toast.
Top 3 music artists and songs
1. Travis Scott.
2. Young Thug.
3. Tribal Seeds.
New life skill: Writing.