COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — At 5-8, Zion Harmon isn’t an average eighth grader in size, and he’s showing he’s not average in basketball ability.
Not only did Harmon become the first eighth grader to be invited to USA Basketball’s U16 National Team Training Camp, he is displaying some leadership skills.
Harmon was among 32 players vying for Team USA for the FIBA Americas U16 Championship for Men, scheduled for June 14-18 in Argentina. He was named as one of the 16 finalists Sunday.
“First of all, he’s been through a whole year of varsity basketball as an eighth grader and that makes him unique,” Team USA head coach Don Showalter said. “Second, he was born in 2002 so he’s not much younger. And the third thing is, in his time playing on the traveling team circuit at the U17 level, he played really well and his team did really well. Those things combined caught our eye.”
Harmon, a point guard from Bowling Green (Ky.), led his school to its first state title despite being younger than his classmates. He averaged 16.8 points a game during a 36-2 season.
The swift Harmon became the first seventh grader to compete at the 17U division of the Nike EYBL. He didn’t just jump up last summer, he showed out despite his WACG (Tenn.) team winning just two games.
Harmon averaged 12.6 points and 3.6 rebounds per game during the EYBL regular season this year as his new team, Boo Williams AAU, went 13-3.
“I just have to keep working,” Harmon said. “There is always somebody out there that you may not know about that wasn’t on the circuit last year that is on the circuit this year. Collin Sexton is the best example, he went from unranked to unstoppable and then committed to Alabama. That’s the main thing for me, working hard.”
Before Peach Jam next month, he’s trying out to wear his nation’s name on his chest.
“I used to always watch the Olympic games,” Harmon said. “I watched the swimming more because that was more popular. But I also watched the basketball and I didn’t know about 16U or 17U until about a year ago. I found out I got invited and just tried to put a lot of work in.”
Work is the theme for Harmon, but leadership is the result. At any practice, he’s the first to pick up a fallen teammate, pat someone when they’re down or high-five a shooter.
“Age doesn’t really mean nothing to me. I’m a Christan and in the Bible, they have people that rule kingdoms when they’re 13 years old,” he said. “It’s really about how fast you can mature, not how long you’ve been on this earth… When I get on the court I feel like it’s basketball and we all just playing.”
Just two days into his first experience with USA Basketball, Harmon is already making big strides and he is trying to fulfill a role that would make him attractive to the selection committee.
“If I make the team or not — which I hope I make the team — I feel like we’re going to have scorers around so my job will be more of getting them the ball in the right positions to score,” he said. “I’ll get mine here and there, but my main thing is defense, communicating and making sure everyone is in the right spot then mine will come.”
Harmon figures to lead Team USA at some point; the question is whether it’s this year. Nonetheless, he already views this as a positive experience just days into training camp.
“There’s this one quote that Don Showalter the head coach said,” Harmon said. “He said, ‘You have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.’ That’s probably the No. 1 thing I’ll take away.”
Showalter was pleased to find out he had already made an impact on the younger Harmon.
“These kids are all going to be out of their comfort zone whether it’s here or in Argentina,” he said. “They have to learn to understand that even though their uncomfortable that they have to make it a comfort zone. That’s hard to do as a young kid, I’m glad he took that away from it.”