PHILADELPHIA (AP) — With an eye toward the future, the Philadelphia 76ers couldn't pass up Maurice Harkless.

The Sixers selected the St. John's forward with the 15th pick in the NBA draft Thursday night, passing up an opportunity to select one of the big men most observers expected them to take.

The 19-year-old Harkless was the Big East Rookie of the Year last year after averaging 15.5 points and 8.6 rebounds as a freshman for the Red Storm.

"We felt this kid had too much potential to pass up," team president Rod Thorn said. "He was our No. 1 choice. All of our basketball people felt this is a guy we should take for our franchise going forward for our future. In the long range, he has a chance to be an outstanding player, not just another player. His upside is tremendous."

Harkless, 6-foot-8 and 207 pounds, played power forward in college, but projects as a small forward at the next level. Thorn eventually expects him to also play the power spot.

Harkless is versatile and has been lauded for his ball skills and footwork for a player his size. He struggled with his shooting from the perimeter, however. Harkless made 20 percent of his 3-pointers and only 68 percent from the foul line.

Those numbers didn't scare off Philadelphia. Harkless impressed the Sixers staff when he worked out at the team's practice facility.

"He made 37 of 50 3-pointers," Thorn said. "He's obviously working on his shot. His shot is fine. He just needs repetition with it. We feel he'll be a good shooter."

Harkless wasn't surprised he ended up in Philadelphia.

"They told me they really liked me and that there was a really high chance they would pick me," he said. "So it was definitely a great feeling, and I kind of had a gut feeling. The workout went really well. Afterward, I was talking to the GM and the coach, it felt really comfortable."

Andre Iguodala, who has long been the subject of trade rumors, is Philadelphia's starting small forward. Harkless isn't likely a candidate to replace him if he's dealt this summer.

Veteran Elton Brand, if he stays, and Thaddeus Young are the team's power forwards. Harkless figures he could be on the floor with Iguodala and Young.

"I can play different positions," Harkless said, "and those guys can play different positions, so I think it will be great."

Harkless started all 32 games for St. John's last season, scoring in double-figures 26 times, including seven games with 20-plus points. Harkless had a career-high 32 points on 14-of-17 shooting against Providence and tallied 30 points and 13 rebounds at Duke. Overall, he recorded 11 double-doubles.

"Going into the workouts, I showed teams how hard I work and how hard I compete," Harkless said. "A lot of teams didn't think I could shoot the ball and I showed the teams I could shoot the ball really well. I think I just left a good impression on Philadelphia."

Thorn expects Harkless to add some bulk to his slender frame.

"I think the main thing is just getting stronger," Harkless said. "I think that's what really is going to take my game to the next level."

The Sixers are coming off a successful season in their first year under new ownership. Led by Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner and Iguodala, they started 20-9, posted their first winning record (35-31) since 2004-05, and won a playoff series for the first time since 2003 by knocking off the top-seeded Chicago Bulls.

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Rob Maaddi can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/RobMaaddi

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