Owen's future looks bright behind talented freshman
SWANNANOA - Jayden Harper remembers the moment he was formally introduced to the higher competition level of varsity basketball.
During the third game of the season, the freshman attempted a game-winning layup against Thomas Jefferson and had his shot easily pinned to the backboard by a streaking defender.
"I was like, 'woah,'" Harper said. "That's when I knew things were different and that I'd have to take my game to the next level."
He's had to grow up fast in his new role as Owen's starting point guard, but he's quickly become one of the top underclassmen in WNC. Harper is averaging 15.1 points a game as a freshman, including scoring 22 points in a 70-64 loss to North Buncombe on Jan. 2.
"It's a big step being a freshman and only 15 years old, but I feel like I've trained for this to be able to succeed," Harper said.
Harper is a Carolina Day transfer who moved to Swannanoa before the school year began. He played on the Wildcats junior varsity team as an eighth grader.
Owen third year coach Clint McElrath knew Harper could make an immediate impact on his team.
"I was real excited," McElrath said. "I had heard a lot of good things about him and was happy to get him. He had built a reputation with his play in AAU, and I had seen him play in a couple of tournaments. He also does all the right things in the classroom. He's a great student."
Harper, who has a 4.5 GPA, said he's been able to be successful early in his high school basketball career because of the trust his teammates have placed in him.
"I've really leaned on the older guys like Saevion Gibbs, Caleb Scott and Dequan Boyce," he said. "They've become my good friends, and that's something I didn't have when I first got here. I think they know I'm good, and they trust me out there on the court."
Boyce leads the team with 17.4 points a game.
McElrath said having a young, talented player like Harper sets the tone for the program for the next four years.
"He's able to do things above his years, and he's already a leader," he said. "When you got someone like that, at that age, you can only go up."
Owen has opened the season 3-7 overall, but won two of the last three games. The Warhorses start Western Highlands Conference play on Jan. 6 at home against Mitchell.
"Right now we just need more time together," Harper said. "I think the more time we spend practicing, the better you'll see us get."