Justin Harper was the Idaho Stampede's first-round pick in the 2012 NBA Developmental League Draft.
As the season started, he was tabbed as the team's best NBA prospect and was inserted into the starting lineup.
Four games into the season, the Stampede were 0-4 and Harper was playing off the bench.
"Everyone has their highs and lows during the course of a season," teammate Jason Ellis said. "There were times when he was a little down and wasn't playing as well as he would have liked, but he stayed positive."
Harper kept learning. He kept practicing. He kept working and believing despite the team's 1-12 start.
"I'm a big believer in going through hard times and sticking with it makes you tougher," he said. "Suffering builds character. You go through those tough times, you kind of grow as a person and a player."
On March 3, for the 35th game of the season, Harper was back in the starting lineup. The team went 3-1 in its next four games, all road contests. Harper was a leading scorer in two games and the leading rebounder in another.
"As of late, I've been able to kind of find my stride and pick it up," said Harper, who came into Friday's game against Austin averaging 11.5 points and 6.0 rebounds a game. "For me, the biggest thing was having the confidence that you can go out there and do what you do. It's just been knowing that I can do it."
Coach Mike Peck has noticed that growth.
"He's just being aggressive," Peck said of the 6-foot-10, 225-pound Harper. "There are aspects of his game that people take notice of with him. He's got size, he's got skills, he can shoot from the outside. But with that body, you've got to be able to rebound and make an impact on the glass, night in and night out, on both ends."
Ellis, a former Boise State standout, has a reputation as a hard-working, fundamentally sound rebounder and defender. Perhaps a season of practicing against Ellis has had a positive impact on Harper.
"When he posts up, it's kind of hard to defend him because he has that fadeaway," Ellis said. "And he's a strong rebounder."
Ellis has enjoyed watching Harper become a more complete player.
"Defensively, he's improved so much from the beginning of the year," Ellis said. "He's really made that an emphasis."
Lately, Harper has also emphasized bringing a positive attitude to work with him.
"You've got to go out there and have fun," he said. "I think through the course of the season, a lot of players get distracted from that. You get so caught up in the stress of the grueling schedule and we need to remember to be thankful that you're playing the game you love.
"I've really been trying to take that approach lately. I'm just going to go out there and have fun and do what I do."
GAME NOTES: Idaho fell behind Tulsa early, trailing 24-14 after the first quarter, and never recovered as the Stampede lost 110-95 at CenturyLink Arena. Jeremy Lamb made 13-of-15 field goals and finished with 29 points for the 66ers (23-17), who shot a blistering 56.2 percent from the field. Carlon Brown led Idaho (13-27) with 21 points. Idaho hosts Tulsa again at 7 p.m. Saturday at CenturyLink Arena.
Chris Langrill: 377-6424