Zion Harmon (Bowling Green H.S./Bowling Green, Ky.) is probably ahead of his time.
He wouldn’t want you to tell him that though, and he’s not sure he believes it himself. And, looking at him, you would never know.
Harmon, you see, is a 5-foot-11, 155-pound guard who competes as if he’s much bigger and a seasoned veteran of the game. But, he’s not. He’s the opposite.
Next fall, Harmon will be entering his freshman year of high school. Unlike the other USA Men’s U16 National Team members, who are either 2019 or 2020 graduates, he will graduate in 2021.
“Some of the guys may feel like they have an edge on me, but when you’re on the court, age doesn’t mean a thing to me,” he said, following the team’s morning practice on June 5.
Harmon’s toughness is attributed to his experience. Without attending one high school class, he’s already played more ball at the varsity level than half of the other U16 team players.
“No matter what, if you’re bigger or stronger, the game comes down to your mentality and skill,” Harmon said. “I’m a somewhat skilled person and I have confidence in my game, and I just give the glory to God.”
“You can tell he is very comfortable playing at a high level,” said Don Showalter, head coach of the USA U16 Men’s National Team. “He knows the level of competition and he knows what he has to get to in order to be a great player.”
Harmon grew up in the D.C. area, before moving to Antioch, Tennessee, a southeast suburb of Nashville, ahead of seventh grade. As a 13-year-old at Lighthouse Christian School, he averaged 17.0 points and 5.0 assists per game for the varsity squad. Turning 14 after the season, he became the first seventh grader to compete in the Nike EYBL.
This past season, Harmon moved 80 miles north. Bowling Green High School (Ky.) was the beneficiary, and Harmon averaged 16.8 ppg. in helping the Purples to a 36-2 record, a 29-game winning streak to close the season and the program’s first state championship in school history.
Harmon scored a team-high 18 points in the title game.
“When I first came [to Bowling Green], my dad and I said we were going to make a covenant to God to have integrity and do the right things at the right time,” he began.
“We prayed and stuck to our regiment – shooting every morning at 5 a.m. and every day after practice. And then, we were blessed with a state championship.”
Over the weekend, Harmon displayed his tenacious style of play and high basketball-IQ in front of Showalter and the USA Basketball Men’s Developmental National Team Committee, doing enough to be named to the 12-player USA U16 National Team.
“What I like about him is that he really dictates the flow of the offense,” added Showalter.
“He knows when to speed the game up, and then he knows when to kind of slow it down a bit. He reads the defense really well. He just understands how to make the right plays, and that can be tough for a young kid, but he does a great job with it.”
What Harmon makes look easy, isn’t always that way, and he admits this week has tested him.
“These have definitely been the hardest practices I’ve ever been through. There’s so much talent in one gym. Having to go every play, it’s been tough.”
Learning to take care of his own body has challenged him this week, he said. The ice cream from the dining hall at the United States Olympic Training Center can eventually add up.
But, he feels he’s pushed through the toughest part, despite the post-practice ice packs on his knees.
His philosophy for doing it is simple, too: “Give everything 110-percent. Do it for God and not for man. Let Him take care of the rest.”
Harmon put off lunch in order to speak. He was actually checking his Instagram, where he boasts a modest following of more than 86,000.
“People just followed me,” he said, laughing it off. “The other guys, they acknowledge it, but I don’t acknowledge it that much.”
And maybe that is exactly what makes Zion Harmon so unique in the first place. Numbers do not matter – not age, not height, not his year in school or the number of his social media followers.
The only thing that matters to Harmon is basketball, and at the moment, the USA Men’s U16 National Team, which will compete at the 2017 FIBA Americas U16 Championship June 14-18 in Formosa, Argentina.
“It’s truly a great feeling to represent this country and to represent the Lord under the American flag in Argentina,” Harmon said. “This is just an incredible chance for me to go to another level in the basketball world.”
In nabbing a roster spot, he won’t be the youngest to play for the USA. Current University of North Carolina guard Seventh Woods was 14-years, 10-months old when he appeared for the gold medal-winning 2013 USA U16 National Team.
But, that really doesn’t matter. Age is just another number, anyways.