2023 All-Star

Jr. NBA Court of Leaders inspires local youth during All-Star weekend

Isiah Harwell learns about leadership on and off the court after participating in All-Star weekend with the Jr. NBA Court of Leaders.

Prep phenom Isiah Harwell works with local youth at Jr. NBA Day in Salt Lake City.

Isiah Harwell is dazzling on the basketball court. At 6-foot-5 and 16 years old, he is widely considered one of the best high school prospects in the United States. Yet even off the court, the sophomore from Idaho is using his supreme talents to help make an impact.

Harwell was recognized by the Jr. NBA for not only his skills on the hardwood, but his qualities as a student-athlete who has distinguished himself amongst his peers. Last November, he was selected to the second cohort of the Jr. NBA Court of Leaders, a development program that provides young men and women with an array of resources to further grow as leaders while offering a platform to positively influence their communities and the youth basketball landscape as a whole.

As one of 12 new members of the Court of Leaders this year, Harwell has participated in leadership development workshops, received mentorship opportunities, and gained insight into areas such as decision-making and mental wellbeing. Additionally, Harwell and his fellow Jr. NBA Court of Leaders members attended a Washington Wizards game and received tours of the Capital One Arena, the White House, the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Harwell plays for Wasatch Academy, a top basketball program in Mount Pleasant, Utah. The school is a 1 1/2-hour drive from Salt Lake City and his ties to the Court of Leaders paved the way for Harwell to receive a unique opportunity to be a part of NBA All-Star 2023.

Harwell represented the Jr. NBA and the Court of Leaders in tremendous fashion. His itinerary for All-Star weekend included volunteering at a Jr. NBA Day clinic, engaging with local youth, creating digital content for the Jr. NBA’s social media platforms, interviewing NBA stars at media day and taking part in State Farm Saturday night festivities where he demonstrated the Kia Skills Challenge in front of a packed Vivint Arena crowd.

Isiah Harwell and NBA On-Court and Brand Partnerships Senior Manager TaJuan Watson — his Court of Leaders mentor — spoke with NBA.com about this experience.

Court Of Leaders Mentor TaJuan Watson and mentee Isiah Harwell.

(Editor’s note: The following conversation has been condensed and edited.)

NBA.com: What has it been like being a part of the Court of Leaders program so far?

Harwell: It’s a blessing. Off the court I’ve gotten to learn a lot and gain appreciation for history and culture, among other areas we’ve focused on. Since the start of the program we’ve visited national museums, and on the court I’ve been able to learn the players and trainers.

At All-Star weekend you volunteered at the Jr. NBA Clinic. What’s it like being able to help inspire the next generation of hoopers?

Man, it’s fun! I can see myself as one of those kids. When I go out there, I picture myself at that age and having fun and I just try to make it fun for them. It gives me joy that I get to teach the kids what I’ve been taught.

You got to be a part of media day creating content for the Jr. NBA, as someone who is used to being on the other side of the camera, how was that experience?

I didn’t know what to expect. When we first got in there Kevin Durant and Giannis [Antetokounmpo] were in there, and they’re loud and crowding around. You have to get your chance. It was cool. When I got to ask them questions and they responded it felt unreal. I’ve never talked to NBA players before.

Wow, KD and Giannis. Did any interview or any moment at All-Star weekend have you feeling star-struck? That sort of ‘I can’t believe it’ feeling?

I mean, it was amazing. My brother and I were there and we talked on the side like this is crazy, bro. We got to be at places and experiencing something we normally couldn’t and my brother and I, we just tried to soak it all in. I showed him videos of me asking Giannis questions. It was really fun.

NBA.com: What was it like being a part of State Farm All-Star Saturday Night?

Man, I was like really nervous. All the players were out there as well and I got to run through the Kia Skills Challenge. Michael B. Jordan was out there. It was just a blessing to be out there.

NBA.com: I was going to say you played in packed high school gyms, in front of large crowds on the AAU circuit, but performing the Kia Skills Challenge inside an NBA arena at All-Star weekend, that’s different.

Yes sir, I was over there and my hands were sweating — I just realized this was a blessing and I have to make the most of it.

NBA.com: And I saw you threw down a pretty sweet windmill dunk to end it. That had to feel really cool.

[Laughing] I messed up a little bit during the challenge, so that dunk was my way of making up for it in the end.

NBA.com: What are you hoping to take from this experience at All-Star weekend?

Learning stuff from NBA players, soaking in what they were telling me — advice they’ve gotten when they were my age — that stuff just sticks with me.

NBA.com: Any advice you want to share with someone who one day wants to be in the position you are?

Not everything is planned the way that it’s supposed to go. Somebody told me just stick on top of your grades and believe in yourself to reach your goals.

NBA.com: What values has Isiah been able to take from Court of Leaders and apply to his life as a student-athlete?

Watson: We threw a lot at the mentees early on, requiring their attention. It shows their willingness to learn. We’ve seen Isiah grow — he was always outwardly spoken and energetic. Now up close he’s being able to see the inner workings of the NBA. He can say ‘I have some potential interest of mine and I have a group of folks that’s here to support me and my growth’.

NBA.com: What is something you hope Isiah took from his experience at All-Star weekend?

Watson: There’s a lot I hope he walks away with. One, not everyone gets to be at All-Star in general. What he got to do is rare. Having the ability to see the events, see media day behind-the-scenes, and just the roles and responsibilities of the players. Isiah is a young athlete inspiring to get to the professional ranks. He can see you have to take care of your job on the court but then off the court. End of the day, I just want him to be a great person. If there is anything he can take from All-Star or his Court of Leaders experience it’s just be a good person, you’ll see a lot of opportunities open up for you aside from how talented you are on the court.