AL HAMNIK: Jerome Harmon now operating on auto pilot

2013-04-06T17:15:00Z 2013-05-06T22:04:12Z AL HAMNIK: Jerome Harmon now operating on auto pilotAl Hamnik Times Columnist nwitimes.com
April 06, 2013 5:15 pm  • 

It was once believed Jerome Harmon could fly.

We saw hints of it each time the Gary native dunked a basketball. All he needed was a runway and flight tower.

Did you know the 6-foot-4 Lew Wallace grad was the first player to win the McDonald's All-American Game dunk contest? Neither did he, until recently.

It happened in 1987 at the Spectrum in Philadelphia, during halftime of an NBA game between the Bulls and 76ers. As the story goes, Harmon went airborne in the lane and soared over three crouching adults positioned side by side for the insane jam.

Afterward, he was approached by a young Michael Jordan in the locker room.

"All he said was WOW!" Harmon recalled. "That meant a lot to me."

Harmon signed with coach Denny Crum's Louisville Cardinals and his once-promising college career quickly went into a tailspin.

He was Prop 48 as a freshman.

He had back surgery the following season for a ruptured disc, was red-shirted, but the coaching staff began losing patience with him before that.

Harmon played the 1989-90 season alongside Felton Spencer and LaBradford Smith and then left as an early NBA entry in 1991.

"I didn't get drafted," Harmon said. "My agent told me I was going to be the Pistons' first pick of the second round but with the way everything went down at the university, I never got the call."

Other than the 10 games he played with the Philadelphia 76ers in 1994-95 as a free agent, Harmon spent 12 years overseas on pro rosters in Italy, France, Switzerland, Taiwan and Venezuela.

Today, he drives a delivery truck in Louisville, where he lives with his girlfriend and their 7-year-old son Jeromey McKinley Harmon.

He claims little Jeromey already is shooting effortlessly at a 10-foot basket.

"I still go to the ballgames at Louisville. There was a little tension at first because of the way I left," Harmon said. "They got over it. I got over it."

He says it's common for fans to approach him and Jeromey at games to say "hi" or shake his hand.

"It warms my heart," Harmon said. "I played one year there but I was good enough that they still remember me. They still recognize me in malls, at the movies and in restaurants. It's crazy.

"The fans in Kentucky, Indiana and New York are the best in the world. They remember."

Jerome Harmon still competes in leagues around Louisville and told me he's usually good for 20 points or more a game wherever he laces them up.

He's 44, by the way.

"No question about it. He had NBA potential," said Earl Smith, Harmon's coach at Lew Wallace. "I remember games he'd come into and the stadium exploded. He was the best sixth man in the country."

Smith either coached or watched many of Gary's greatest players in his 40-plus years within the school system, including 1991 Mr. Basketball Glenn Robinson.

"When people compare Jerome to Glenn Robinson ... Glenn was a great player, don't get me wrong," Smith said. "But Jerome had that flare.

"People came to see him play."

Back when you swore the kid could fly.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at al.hamnik@nwi.com

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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