Harmon Tries to Concentrate on Game : Basketball: Santa Ana Valley junior puts his controversial transfer and coach's resignation aside to develop as a player.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Santa Ana Valley's Ike Harmon drove to the basket against El Modena last week. Not even he, let alone his teammates, knew what was coming.

Harmon passed the basket, jumped and did a reverse dunk.

"I wondered what he was doing," guard Olujimi Mann said. "Then he dunked in that guy's face. It was the most impressive thing I've seen him do."

Said junior varsity coach Paul Hoover: "Only two players in this county can do that. (Mater Dei's) Schea Cotton and Ike."

If basketball was all Harmon had to deal with, his life would be a lot simpler. That seems to be the fluid part of an unstable year.

Harmon, a 6-foot-7 junior, is averaging 15.5 points and 7.5 rebounds. He is shooting .548% from the field and is growing in leaps and bounds as a player.

Yes, the basketball is sweet, even if the turmoil surrounding it has been a bit sour.

Harmon has tried to settle in at Santa Ana Valley, but that hasn't been easy. His transfer last summer, when he announced he was leaving Century, was high-profile and controversial. He has since endured a back injury and his coach's departure.

But he has dealt with those speed bumps the only way he knows how.

"I just focused on basketball and school work," Harmon said. "I don't pay any attention to any of the other stuff."

That has taken quite some concentration.

The latest disruption to Harmon's peace of mind was Coach Rich Prospero's resignation. Prospero quit for personal reasons Monday, leaving the county's third-ranked team.

Players were shocked, especially Harmon, who has grown as a player in Prospero's system. The Falcons didn't deal with it well Wednesday; they were upset by Canyon, 52-39, and fell to 10-7.

"We all love Coach Prospero and wish him well," Harmon said. "And we're always going to think about him. But the best thing we can do is just play basketball."

Harmon does that as best he can. He scored a team-high 13 points against Canyon. But it was just another skid in a stop-and-go season.

Injuries and inconsistency have hampered the Falcons. But that hasn't slowed Harmon's development.

"The thing Ike is learning is to play at the same level every game," Prospero said before his resignation. "He had a lot of peaks and valleys early on."

On and off the floor.

Harmon has done everything he can to concentrate on basketball.

He is so into the game these days, he had his name shaved in the back of his head along with the logo for a particular shoe company, one similar to his first name.

Now that's focused.

"I'm a kid, I like to experiment," Harmon said. "My family thought I was crazy."

How did he know?

"My brother smacked me on the head," he said.

This was the kind of I'm-only-young-once fun that Harmon hoped to have this year. But it has been tough to find.

Harmon needed a flak jacket for all the sniping that occurred when he transferred from Century. He had been a starter for Century, along with his brother Thomas, last season. They helped the Centurions reach the playoffs.

Ike Harmon had been a support player on that team, while his brother was the leading scorer. Thomas Harmon is now a redshirt at Southern California College.

Still, Ike Harmon had his moments. He had a career-high 31 points against Troy.

But he decided it was time to move to another school last June. Harmon said basketball wasn't the reason. Santa Ana Valley was closer to his home, a 10-minute walk rather than a 15- to 20-minute drive.

His six sisters attended Santa Ana Valley.

Still, that didn't stop the eyebrow raising. He was the second prominent transfer in as many years to come to Santa Ana Valley. Mann, a junior guard, transferred from Mater Dei before the 1993-94 season.

"Everybody has been putting this in my face," Harmon has said. "But I left because Santa Ana Valley was closer."

He has given up trying to convince people and just played basketball. That part has worked out well.

"I've learned I'm a better player than I thought I was," Harmon said. "We've played a lot of top teams and these guys aren't that much better than me. I'm equal to them.

"That's not me being cocky. My confidence level is just high."

That is a direct result of his play.

Harmon scored a team-high 24 points in the Falcons' opener, a 61-45 victory over Sonora, now the county's fourth-ranked team. He also suffered a back injury in that game, which was diagnosed as a slipped disc.

The injury took time to heal, but Harmon played on. He had a 20-point game in a 65-60 victory over Chino Hills Ayala, which was ranked seventh in the state by Cal-Hi sports last week.

But his most impressive performance was against Los Angeles Crenshaw, the defending State Division I champion. Harmon had 31 points, with three dunks, and 13 rebounds, but the Falcons blew a 10-point lead when Mann fouled out and lost, 88-80.

"Ike showed me something that night," Mann said. "He really stepped up. Last year, we didn't have anyone who would do that if I was out. But you could see Ike hates to lose."

And why not? The court is a place where Harmon has control.

Said Harmon: "If I play hard, then I should come out on top."

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