1993-1994 BOYS' BASKETBALL / PACIFIC COAST LEAGUE : Harmon's Enthusiasm Backfires on Century

TIMES STAFF WRITER

As the basketball came off the rim, Thomas Harmon made one of those instant decisions: He was going to get the rebound.

The stakes were low--this wasn't the waning moments of a Pacific Coast League game--it was merely a practice last Thursday, weeks before the start of his senior season.

Still, Harmon is not one to ease up on any court, so he jumped, leaning over a shorter teammate and stretched for the ball. But after he came down, he collapsed on the floor.

It was a frightening moment.

"When I was lying there, all kinds of things went through my head," Harmon said. "I was scared for a while. Sometimes I get hurt, but I don't pay any attention to it because it's usually a minor thing. That's probably why I was scared this time.

"I couldn't get up."

The injury turned out to be a pulled hamstring, Harmon's most serious injury ever, but one that should keep him out of action for only about a week. Harmon says he couldn't handle missing more than that.

"It was difficult for me to stay out for one day," he said. "Sitting on the sideline watching the team practice and not being out there, I felt down on myself.

"They want me to stay off it. I mean I can't even get up and shoot."

Century Coach Greg Coombs says he isn't taking any chances. He had to order Harmon to sit and not shoot around during a junior varsity practice Saturday. But Harmon's enthusiasm for the game--and his desire to play it all the time--are large parts of the reason Coombs likes having him around. Harmon has been on the Century varsity four years, as long as the 5-year-old school has had one.

"He's one of those kids who you really enjoy having around and it's going to be sad when he leaves," Coombs said. "He's the kind of kid that you hope the rest of the players will look up to and say, 'I want to be like that.' "

Harmon, who is 6 feet 4 and lean, averaged 14 points and five rebounds last season in his first year as a starter. The Centurions were plagued by injuries and finished fourth in the Pacific Coast League, but they showed promise at times.

In the first game of the second round of league, they hung close with Trabuco Hills, which was ranked fourth in the county at the time, setting up a dream opportunity for Harmon.

With seconds remaining in the game, Jason Welty's jumper from the corner bounced off the rim and Harmon out-battled a Mustang player for the rebound. He then put up an off-balance 12-footer at the buzzer. It bounced twice and rolled halfway around the rim before falling in, giving the Centurions a two-point victory.

"I still get chills about that now," Harmon said.

But Century won only one of its next four league games and lost to Los Alamitos, 55-50, in the first round of the Division I-A playoffs.

Harmon is looking forward to trying to improve on that finish.

"This team is strong," he said. "It's not the most athletic team I've ever played on, but it has the most heart."

Harmon is excited about the opportunity to play with his younger brother, Ike, who led the junior varsity in scoring as a freshman last year. Ike and Thomas are the youngest of eight children born to Thomas Sr. and Neda Harmon.

They have six sisters, ranging in age from 33 to 27, many of whom were standout athletes at Santa Ana Valley. Thelma, 30, was among the best track and field sprinters in the county.

Often, some of the sisters join the spirited family pickup games.

"They are my biggest competitors," Harmon said. "Even more than the other teams in our league.

"Especially, Ike. We can never complete the game because we get so busy arguing and fighting."

Now they have something to fight for together.

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