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Zion Harmon steps off the court after his final practice at the Team USA Minicamp in early October. He’s performed well this week, showcasing the skills that have made him one of the top prospects in the Class of 2021. He walks slowly over to the trainer’s table, grabbing a razor to cut the tape wrapped around his ankle.
After practice, a representative from USA Basketball walks around the facility asking media members if there’s a player we’d like to interview. I make my request for Zion Harmon.
After cutting the tape from his ankle, changing from his basketball shoes and into some slides, and throwing on a gray USA Basketball hoodie— Zion emerges from the trainer’s room and sees me waiting for him.
I’m probably not what he pictured. At 6-foot-1 with a slim build, glasses, and in my early twenties— I don’t exactly give-off the vibe of a seasoned veteran in the hoops industry. Nevertheless, I introduce myself as the two of us walk to the corner of the basketball court to begin our interview.
Zion is in a tough spot at the time of our interview. He’s facing the possibility that he might be ruled ineligible to play during his sophomore year by the Kentucky High School Athletic Association.
“Everything we did was legal,” Zion begins to say. “So it should go through.”
Zion is ready to play his fourth year of varsity basketball at his fourth different school… But just to clarify, he’s a sophomore in high school— not a senior.
As a seventh grader, he starred at Lighthouse Christian in Antioch, Tennessee. In eighth grade, he moved to Kentucky where he won a state championship at Bowling Green. And last season he averaged over 30 points, which led the state in scoring at Adair County.
Now he’s on the move again, this time to Marshall County (Benton, Ky), which is located in a small rural area near the Kentucky-Missouri border on the western tip of the state.
However, there’s a lot more to Zion’s story than just attending four different schools in four years.
Zion comes from a family where faith in God isn’t just important— it’s everything.
In an interview with Jason Frakes at the Louisville Courier Journal, Mike Harmon (Zion’s father) pointed to the example of Jesus when explaining why his son was transferring again.
“I can’t really go into all of the why of our path,” Harmon said. “That would be almost like saying, ‘Why did Jesus choose his path?’ We live our lives by faith.”
Faith is also an integral part of Zion's life, just take a glance at any of his social media profiles and that much becomes clear. Zion enjoys posting pictures and tweeting, but when he does— he often includes a Bible verse or some form of spiritual encouragement in the caption.
“I just always like to spread the word and get the message out, because that's what has allowed me to excel,” Zion said. “A lot of people thought I was going to fall off, but God has always given me an answer to stay on track.”
If every school— Lighthouse Christian, Bowling Green and Adair County— represents a significant part of Zion's spiritual journey, then his chapter at Marshall County would be the most unique yet.
For starters, Marshall County is in a region that's primarily white. Almost 98-percent white to be exact.
“It’s a positive for the community because we need diversity,” head coach Terry Birdsong told the Courier Journal. “It’s about way more than just basketball. People are excited from a lot of standpoints by the fact that a kid like that wants to come to our school and be a part of our community.”
Another significant aspect of Marshall County's story is the school shooting which devastated the community nine months ago. On January 23, 2018, a fellow student opened fire at the high school killing two classmates and injuring 18 more.
“Not many people talk about the school shooting,” Zion said. “I just say prayers out to those people and those families.”
— Henderson Co Schools (@HendersonSchool) January 27, 2018
Although the school has regained some semblance of normalcy, Zion's move to Marshall County is undeniably motivated by a desire to be a leader in this new environment and to continually grow as a young man.
Zion’s move to Marshall County also has more practical reasons.
“My Dad also saw that [Marshall County] was better from an educational standpoint. They have a four-block system that my brother did in his senior year of high school,” Zion said. “And my brother said that it really helped him educationally.”
Academics is undeniably important to the Harmon family. Zion's brother, Zalmico Harmon, earned a 3.5 grade-point average in high school before playing at UC Santa Barbara and one year professionally in Mexico. Zion maintained a 3.8 GPA during his freshman year at Adair County.
Zion's road to Marshall County has been a long and winding road. As a seventh grader, Zion became the youngest player to ever play on the Nike EYBL 17-U circuit. As an eighth grader, he became the first player to ever be invited to USA Basketball’s U16 Training Camp. That same year, he led Bowling Green to its first ever state championship while knocking down clutch shots like this one:
The game-winning shot from 8th grader Zion Harmon to give Bowling Green the victory over Scott to advance to the state championship game. pic.twitter.com/mz8HlJOdgC
— Dominique Yates (@RealDYates) March 19, 2017
All that spotlight at such a young age has certainly challenged Zion.
“I feel like what I'm doing, no other kid has been through. Playing 17U so early, to keep a level-head is like a lot of mental battles that I'm facing that no one in this gym understands except me and my Dad maybe,” Zion said. “Just over time, things will come together with hard work, patience and prayer.”
Whether he's given the opportunity to play at Marshall County or not, Zion's foundation remains the same. Hard work, patience and prayer will continue to carry Zion Harmon into an incredibly bright future.