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Lesson Learned

The Titans' Harmon Rebounds Well From Academic Troubles


The basketball landscape is strewn with the shattered lives of players who had game but not much more.

"Playground legends," Ike Harmon calls them. Players with remarkable basketball ability who could never quite put it together in the real world.

"I was on the same track of not doing the things I had to do," Harmon said. "I thought basketball was everything. But I was wrong, and I know that now. I don't want it to happen to me."

Harmon begins his second season playing for Cal State Fullerton at Kansas State on Monday. He still wants to be as successful in basketball as he can be, even have a shot at the NBA someday, but his entire life doesn't revolve around a bouncing brown ball.

"I think I've matured a lot," he said. "I've matured as a student in the classroom, and as a respectable person on campus. Being an athlete, you never know who might be watching you, and I don't want anyone to say, 'That Ike Harmon, he's just a butt-head.' "

Harmon, who played at Century and Santa Ana Valley high schools, already has had to go through the indignity of sitting out his freshman year as a Proposition 48 nonqualifier. Under those guidelines, athletes who don't meet the minimum NCAA academic standards can enroll but can't compete as freshmen. "It made me realize that in order to play basketball, you have to do the other things," Harmon said. "Basketball is a reward."

It took Harmon only one season to become one of the Big West Conference's best players. A 6-foot-7 forward with outstanding quickness and jumping ability, Harmon ranked 13th in scoring (15.3 points) and 11th in rebounding (6.4) last season.

That despite being troubled nearly the entire season by foot problems. Painful bunions developed on both Harmon's big toes, and he had surgery last spring. Some of the bone had to be shaved away, and the tendons that locked the toe joints were loosened.

"The pain was really bad last season," Harmon said. "It was to the point that I almost was ready to quit, but my inner strength kept telling me to fight through it. I kept thinking there was a light at the end of the tunnel."

Titan Coach Bob Hawking hopes the surgery will make a difference.

"People didn't see Ike at his best last year," Hawking said. "We didn't say a lot about it then, but he was really hurting at times. Any time you have to jump and land on your feet as much as you do in basketball, it has to affect your performance. He had a terrific year under the circumstances, but I think we'll see a guy playing at another level this year."

Harmon already has shown signs of doing exactly that. He had 32 points and 13 rebounds in the team's first exhibition game last week against High Five America, a collection of former college players.

Also, when NBA players Cedric Ceballos and Bruce Bowen--both former Titans--worked out at Fullerton recently, Harmon held his own against both.

"Ike definitely showed he has the ability to stay with them," said assistant coach Bob Thornton, who played eight years in the NBA. "It's just going to be a matter of him developing all the little things about his game."

But Hawking says it's too early to begin measuring Harmon's professional chances.

"He still has some hurdles to go over, but he has the potential to be one of the premier college players on the West Coast," Hawking said. "And he could have a pro future down the road. So much of that is in his hands. But the thing that so many people lose sight of is that last season was his first playing college basketball."

High Expectations

His first year of college basketball was a big adjustment for Harmon.

"When I first came in, I had that young freshmen mentality," he said. "But a lot was put on me that first year. A lot was expected. I either had to mature and deal with it, or handle it like a kid and just kind of blow it off. I'm glad I chose to grow up, handle it like a man and face the responsibility. But it got frustrating when I failed, and didn't do what the coaches wanted me to do.

"One thing I learned is that you have to deal with things in a positive way. Coach Hawking has a lot of different quotes, and he always came up with one to help me. No matter how things are going, you have to find the positive things, build on them and still learn from the negatives. I tried to do that."

Harmon, who majors in kinesiology and health promotion, says it has carried over into the classroom. "There are times when I get down about something that happens in school, but that's when I try to dig down deeper," he said. "I feel positive about what I've done so far."

So do the Titan coaches.

"As far as I'm concerned, Ike has shattered the Prop. 48 myth," Hawking said. "He's done well academically for the last two years. More and more, people are recognizing that test scores don't always show everything. I'm confident Ike is going to get a degree here."

Harmon would like to be able to do it in four years. It would be his way of delivering a tomahawk dunk to the idea that Prop. 48 athletes don't make it.

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