Scott County had just won, 107-66, but it was one of the players for the opposing team, Adair County, who stood shirtless by the locker room taking photos with fans of all ages.
Zion Harmon is used to striking a pose at this point.
“They come up very single time after the game. Before the game. They even try during the game, but I just tell ’em to wait for after the game,” Harmon said with a laugh.
He handles the fanfare with grace despite being only 15 years old. The Adair County freshman has been making headlines since he was a fourth-grader in Bethesda, Md., and hasn’t let up since.
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He was the first seventh-grader to play in the distinguished Nike EYBL circuit, and last June averaged 11.4 points and 3.2 assists for the United States’ national team that went 5-0 on its way to the 2017 FIBA U16 Americas Championship, qualifying America for the 2018 U17 World Cup. Future 150 ranks the 5-foot-11 point guard as the No. 1 overall player in the 2021 class.
Harmon averaged 16.8 points as an eighth-grader for Bowling Green, which won the 100th boys’ Sweet Sixteen title last March. He arrived at Adair County — a program that’s made the state tournament only twice in Harmon’s lifetime, and six times total — hoping to improve his leadership abilities and his in-game shot selection and making.
Harmon took 10 shots per game for the Purples. He’s averaging a state-leading 33.3 points per game while hitting 50 percent of his 22 shots per contest for the Indians.
The move has also helped him keep a level head about the environment in which he plays after spending a summer suiting up for the U.S. It doesn’t hurt that Harmon has grown accustomed to changing scenery — he played for Lighthouse Christian School in Nashville the season before he played at Bowling Green.
“I thought Nashville was country, then I went to Bowling Green. And then I thought Bowling Green was country, and then I went to Adair and I was like, ‘Oh man, I don’t think it can get any countrier than this,’” Harmon said with a grin. “Anywhere God puts you, he puts you there for a reason. I don’t like speaking down on anywhere cause there are goods and bads about everywhere. There’s goods and bads in the city and goods and bads in the country. It’s been going pretty well.”
‘Somewhere on their mind’
People lose their lunch whenever a good basketball player switches teams. The talk ramps up tenfold when the player in question is projected to someday play in the National Basketball Association.
“Basically it’s like Eazy-E said,” Harmon said, referencing the deceased hip hop icon. “‘All publicity is good publicity.’ If they’re talking bad or they’re talking good, I’m obviously somewhere on their mind.”
Harmon is a devout Christian. When asked what he wanted to gain out of playing basketball, “a group of followers to touch for Christ” was mentioned in the same breath as “a free education” and “to always be able to provide” for his family and people struggling in his home area.
He’s played in several states, but Washington, D.C., is where Harmon’s heart lies. He’d love to someday play for the Washington Wizards, “but anywhere that drafts me, I’ll be there,” he says.
College will come before an NBA opportunity presents itself. Missouri, Vanderbilt, Creighton and Western Kentucky are among the bigger schools that have already offered the freshman. Kentucky, Kansas, Xavier and Indiana were on a list of schools that have expressed interest that he keeps on his phone. He wants — and expects — to receive offers from UK and Louisville, but doesn’t lean toward either program.
“I don’t really like to show too much favoritism. I kind of keep that to myself,” Harmon said with a grin. “But yeah, an offer from Louisville and Kentucky would be good. Eventually they should come if I keep working and keep my grades up.”
Harmon is at least three years away from being draft eligible, and that would only be if he reclassifies to the 2020 class (which is a possibility). He’s confident about his pro potential, though: scouts have told him he could be a first-round pick regardless of if he grows another inch, but Harmon thinks he could eventually reach 6-1 like his brother, Zalmico, who played at UC-Santa Barbara.
Count Adair County Coach Deron Breeze among the believers.
“Just watching him play on the EYBL Circuit, playing up five or six grades, he’s a pro, there ain’t no doubt,” Breeze said. “... His ceiling’s unlimited as long as he keeps working, and he’s the hardest worker I’ve been around. As long as he keeps working he’ll be fine.”
‘50 a night’
Scott County Coach Billy Hicks has been coaching in the state for a long time. His Cardinals, ranked among the top teams in the state all season, held Harmon to 26 points on 9-for-27 shooting, including a 5-for-17 mark from behind the three-point line, when he came to Georgetown on Feb. 12.
“I felt bad for him tonight because ... he had two or three defenders running at him all night,” Hicks said after that game. “I’m sure on his part he’s so frustrated. I hate to do that but we’ve got to do what’s best for our team.”
Scott County junior Glenn Covington typically draws the assignment of primary defender against the opponent’s best player. Covington’s “quick as a cat,” Hicks said, and Harmon “wouldn’t face anybody in the SEC quicker than Glenn.”
“Just imagine what he’ll do to ya when you can’t run up and double-team him,” Hicks said. “If you played him straight up one on one he’d get 50 a night.”
There’s only one player in state history — male or female — that’s averaged 50 points per game: Whitney Creech, who owns the all-time scoring record with 5,527 points in eight seasons of girls’ varsity action. Entering the first round of the 5th Region Tournament, Harmon has scored 2,115 points in his varsity career (that total drops to 1,592 points if you remove the 523 points he scored in his one season in Tennessee).
The KHSAA would not include the Tennessee points as part of its record-book consideration, so Harmon would likely need to play three more varsity seasons in Kentucky to make a run at a boys’ record once thought to be unassailable: “King” Kelly Coleman’s 4,337 points scored from 1953-1956. Whether he breaks it or not, to be mentioned in the same breath as a Bluegrass State legend is quite a feat for a 15-year-old.
Hicks offered an assessment of Harmon’s game that any boy playing in the commonwealth would like to hear.
“I can’t imagine there being a better guard,” Hicks said. “He’d help Kentucky right now, the way he shoots the ball.”
Zion Harmon’s scoring
Seventh grade: 523 (Lighthouse Christian in Tennessee)
Eighth grade: 623
Freshman: 969 (through February)
Adair County’s next game: Thursday vs. Central Hardin in first round of the Fifth Region Tournament (8:15 p.m. at Marion County High School)