Nestled in the Sanpete County Valley sits Mount Pleasant, UT, whose population is just a fourth of the capacity of the University of Utah’s Jon M. Huntsman Center. The small central city is widely known for its 19th-century style architecture and hosting one of the country’s top high school teams. And in early July, the 16-year-old who is ranked by some as the nation’s fifth-best prospect in the class of 2025 decided to make “Hub City” his temporary home.
Walking around the 35-acre campus on a crisp January afternoon, Isiah Harwell explains his decision to leave his hometown of Pocatello, ID, in search of a greater challenge in Utah.
“Out there is family for real,” Harwell says of Idaho. “But the reason why we left was because we felt like there could have been better competition that I could’ve been playing against that would’ve pushed me to be better.”
After leading the Century Diamondbacks to the District Finals with averages of 18 ppg and 8 rpg during his freshman campaign, Harwell now finds himself lacing up against the nation’s best in the NIBC for Wasatch Academy.
Immediately drawn to the Tigers coaching staff, who had been regularly traveling the four-hour distance between the bordering states to catch Harwell’s dominant freshman season, Harwell says it was an easy decision.
“As soon as you meet ’em, it’s like a bond is just there,” he says. “It’s like you’ve talked to them before.”
As just the second sophomore on a senior-laden squad, the 6-5 shooting guard has quickly carved out his do-it-all role with the team. Sure, Harwell can bully his way to the basket or spin and hit a fadeaway J in your eye—which he breaks out often—but it’s the defensive side of the ball that he’s taken the most pride in midway through the Tigers season.
The son of a former Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year—Ron Harwell was swiping 2.2 steals a game at Idaho St. in the ’90s—Isiah’s best teacher has always been experience. Growing up, playing defense always seemed like an afterthought. As soon as his pops took notice, Isiah was in the gym learning the techniques and nuggets of knowledge his dad had gained over the course of his collegiate career.
“I was like, Oh, this is actually kind of easy. If your man doesn’t score on you, it does something psychological to them,” Harwell explains. “I need to be, like, a shadow on somebody, don’t leave them. You need to be one step ahead of them.”
Snatching 3 steals and swatting 2 blocks in a 13-point November win over Bishop Walsh, Harwell and the Tigers then competed at 2022 Holiday Hoopsgiving in Atlanta the following weekend, where he was quick to assert his wide-ranging skill set. Averaging 13 points and 4 boards while shooting 36.4 percent from three, the five-star prospect began showing flashes of becoming the Beehive State’s top-ranked talent.
Starting alongside junior point guard Jeremiah Johnson and Kansas State signee RJ Jones has placed Harwell in a keen position to analyze and embody the successful traits of the team’s leading scorers. Specifically, “how they get their shot off and how they’re getting to the basket and drawing fouls,” he explains.
And where will Harwell head after Wasatch? He’s got some time, and a lot of offers, including Kansas, UNC and Texas. Until then, he’ll be stoically soaking in the vast amount of hoops knowledge in his home away from home. It’s time to tap in.
Photo via NIBC/Wasatch Academy
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