As well as De’Vion Harmon played in his Oklahoma basketball debut Tuesday night, fans should be just as encouraged about something he said six days earlier.
“I know, and everybody who watches us in the Big 12 knows, that we’ve got to be better than the past couple years. I want people to put that on my shoulders and let me handle it,” Harmon declared at Big 12 Media Day on Oct. 23. “I don’t care if I’m a freshman or not. I’m 18. I feel like I can handle whatever is thrown at me. Put the blame on me if we lose a game.
“I’ll take it. I’ll fix it. Then we’ll bounce back.”
Coaches love hearing that volume of accountability from seniors. Harmon is OU’s freshman point guard.
When I relayed the quote to Lon Kruger, the Sooners coach smiled so broadly the corners of his mouth practically reached his spectacles.
“De’Vion carries himself that way. He does,” Kruger said. “He works extremely hard. He’s motivated by a number of things, but primarily it’s to do what he can to help his team be better. A lot of players think like that, but De’Vion being a point guard, having that mindset, that’s healthy. That’s refreshing.”
College basketball remains a guard’s game. The sturdier your backcourt, the sturdier your lead guard in particular, the deeper into March you can play.
This has to do with production but also mentality. It’s why Kruger still reveres what Steve Henson provided him at Kansas State 34 years ago. Solid numbers, an unwavering attitude and a run to the Elite Eight.
It’s why Isaiah Cousins remains close to Kruger’s heart. Cousins didn’t score like backcourt mate Buddy Hield. He was as vocal as an acolyte.
But he was so productive, and he was tirelessly committed. He bounced a basketball wherever he went, and that was often the practice gym.
Trae Young came along two years after Cousins helped OU reach the 2016 Final Four. Young was a spectacular point guard in his lone college season. He was a good kid.
It’s just he could not get his teammates in step for a variety of reasons. That limited the Sooners’ trajectory.
This isn’t to suggest Harmon’s Sooners have an automatically higher potential. They are going to have to do a lot of things better than they did last year, when they did win an NCAA Tournament game but also finished 7-11 in the Big 12, one season after Young’s team finished 8-10 and lost in the NCAA first round. That’s on veterans like Kristian Doolittle, Brady Manek and Jamal Bieniemy.
Harmon is going to have to do some things better than he did as a four-star prospect at Denton (Texas) Guyer. He realizes this.
“I’m working on being more consistent with my shot,” Harmon said, “just finding my spots on the floor, knowing what moves to make and what passes to make at the right time, being more crafty around the rim. You’re really hard to guard if you can make different shots, keep the defense off balance.”
Kruger is pleased Harmon is mature enough to both recognize his shortcomings and work to eliminate them.
“He’s done a phenomenal job since June in terms of progress,” Kruger remarked. “Just being conscious of all the players around him and what they do well and getting the ball to the right people at the right time.”
Harmon chalked up 22 points versus three assists in his OU debut Tuesday night against Southeastern Oklahoma State. The scoring came before the helping, but listen to what Harmon said about his function at Big 12 Media Day:
“I want to average eight-plus assists a game. If I do that, that’s where I get 15- to 20-plus points a game (through teammates’ scoring).”
Harmon also said: “However my stats look at the end of the game, the only stat I care about is winning.”
Here is an 18-year-old who not only expects to win a lot, but assumes the responsibility for doing so. We’ll see how it works out.
Harmon must develop as a player, his teammates must develop and mesh around him, and there is so much that goes into a college basketball season that you can’t account for.
Still, how a point guard conducts himself is so critical. If he makes the right impression, the easier it becomes to conduct his team.
“I’ve still got more work to do on that,” Harmon said, “but that’s the best thing that I can bring to this team. Leadership.”
Chalk one up for the Sooners, and not just because they won Tuesday night.