SUWANEE, Ga. – WACG (Tenn.) point guard Zion Harmon dropped 19 points, dished out six assists and snagged three rebounds in an overtime win against Team Takeover (Washington, D.C.) in his Nike EYBL debut during the third session in Hampton, Va., two weeks ago.
Strong showing by most standards, especially for a latecomer.
“I had fun,” Harmon said. “I was just ready to get out there and compete against the older guys.”
Not just a little older either; Harmon just finished up his seventh grade year on Tuesday.
That’s right, as in “two years away from being a freshman” seventh grade; against the top players in the country on the toughest shoe circuit league in the country.
Harmon is the only seventh grader ever to play in the EYBL.
Almost certainly upgrades that “strong” debut to darn near legendary, aye?
“He’s not the normal seventh grader, obviously,” WACG coach Deron Breeze said. “He’s special. He’s the youngest guy on the team and he’s the star. He’s just got it.”
The numbers back that up, Harmon, who just turned 14 in March, finished the EYBL Hampton session averaging 16 points and seven assists per game. He averaged 19.5 points and five assists in two losses Saturday at Suwanee Sports Academy.
“The biggest difference between playing on that level and playing in the 15 division is that you really have to play smarter,” said Harmon, who stands 5-foot-9 and already has offers from New Mexico and Jacksonville State and is being recruited by Missouri and Alabama.
“You can’t just run up and down. If you’re not using your head, you’re gonna make mistakes and there will be dunks on the other end. Crazy dunks.”
The EYBL’s stiff competition was nothing new for Harmon. He’d been duking it out against top freshman point guard Tyger Campbell and top junior combo guard John Petty in practice with WACG before they swapped AAU teams.
Zion has been a mainstay in the AAU national championship since the second grade, leading his team to four consecutive appearances and coming away with the title once.
That’s why it makes sense that Zion, who reclassified in the second grade according to his father Mike, needed to challenge himself this past season, skipping middle school ball to start varsity at Lighthouse Christian School (Antioch, Tenn.), where he avenged 17 points and five assists a game.
His best game?
A 33-point performance against La Lumiere (La Porte, Ind.), which finished as runner-up in the DICK’s Sporting Goods High School Nationals in April.
“Zion’s always been around the game, always playing against guys who were a lot older than him,” Mike said. “He’d always been in the gym with his brother Zalmico, who played at UC Santa Barbara. Zion is really a student of the game. I had a lot of different schools that wanted him to come play for them. The attention is pretty crazy.”
And therein lies the pause.
It’s hard to forget that Zion is a full five years away from his high school graduation. There have been countless young stars who were “next” only to fall victim to early overexposure — stars like Demetrius Walker.
Once dubbed the top 12-year-old in the country, Walker donned the cover of Sports Illustrated at age 14. He was the subject of the book “Play Their Hearts Out” and was touted by some to be the next LeBron James.
But Walker’s play couldn’t power the hype machine.
Today, King James’ onetime heir apparent is the subject of a documentary about his rise and fall as an elite recruit and college basketball player.
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“What we do to keep him grounded and rooted is to constantly teach him that our base is in Jesus Christ,” Mike said. “Everything that we do is for the glory of God. We just keep him focused on having fun and working hard. He knows he’s got a long way to go.”
In the interim, Zion’s goal for a payoff of that hard work is to make people forget about his age.
“I don’t want people to say, ‘He can play for a younger guy,” Zion said. “I just want to be known as one of the best players on the EYBL, overall.”
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY