Mark Story

Has anyone shown more passion for being part of Kentucky basketball than Zion Harmon?

Earlier this month, prep basketball prodigy Zion Harmon announced the seven finalists in his college recruitment.

The class of 2021 point guard, who is now at Marshall County High School, listed in alphabetical order: Kansas, Kentucky, Louisville, LSU, Murray State, Seton Hall and Western Kentucky.

You will note four in-state schools among the final seven for the 5-foot-10, 160-pound Harmon. Heck, he listed UK even though he does not presently hold a scholarship offer from John Calipari’s Wildcats.

When I saw Harmon’s state of Kentucky-centric recruiting list, this is what I wondered:

In this century, has anyone shown more passion for being a part of basketball in Kentucky than Harmon?

A middle school wunderkind in Nashville, Harmon came to the commonwealth to play his high school hoops.

As an eighth-grader in 2016-17, he was a standout on Bowling Green High School’s Boys’ Sweet Sixteen championship team.

Zion winning Sweet Sixteen
Zion Harmon (fourth from left to right with face covered) on the Bowling Green bench in the final minute of the Purples’ 67-56 win over Cooper in the 2017 Boys’ Sweet Sixteen finals in Rupp Arena. Matt Goins

In his freshman season, Harmon took his talents to Adair County and led the state in scoring (32.7 points per game plus 7.8 assists).

Last year, Harmon spent his sophomore year in idle after transferring again, this time to Marshall County.

He failed to get immediate relief from Kentucky High School Athletics Association transfer restrictions and forfeited a year of his high school basketball career by sitting out last season.

That gave Harmon every incentive to go to another state to play — yet he stayed in the commonwealth.

His return to the court this season for Marshall County will be one of the most anticipated story lines in 2019-2020 Kentucky high school hoops.

Not everyone has been enthusiastic about Harmon spending his high school basketball career in Kentucky, of course.

If you are a player, coach or fan of a rival school whose chances of reaping success are lessened by Harmon’s presence in your team’s region, resentment is a more than understandable reaction to his presence.

The player’s multiple transfers have made Harmon a headache for KHSAA administrators, too.

I get all that.

Still, as someone who has followed hoops in Kentucky my whole life, what I want to see are high-level players and exciting stories emanating from high school basketball in the commonwealth.

So far in the 21st century, our state has often suffered from a dearth of both.

Some of our best homegrown hoops talents — players that have been good enough to compete for Mr. Basketball honors and to lead teams to the Sweet Sixteen — have chosen to exit Kentucky high school basketball for the siren call of out-of-state prep schools.

In contrast, Harmon — the No. 37-rated recruit in the class of 2021 according to the 24/7 Composite Rankings — has gone out of his way to play and stay here.

It will be fascinating to see if that continues through his college recruitment.

In the Rick Stansbury coaching era, no one has recruited the commonwealth better than Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers will boast seven in-state players on their 2019-2020 roster, including three Mr. Basketball winners — Camron Justice (2015), Carson Williams (2016) and Taveion Hollingsworth (2017).

Murray State can sell Harmon on being next up in what has been a stellar 21st century run of Racers point guards — think Isaiah Canaan, Cameron Payne and Ja Morant.

Under Chris Mack, Louisville seems to be moving beyond the tumult of the Rick Pitino era.

If the Cardinals can avoid a severe punishment from the NCAA as a result of the Adidas/Brian Bowen scandal that ultimately brought down the Pitino coaching regime, Mack seems well on his way to restoring U of L to it historic perch among the nation’s top men’s basketball programs.

As for Kentucky, Harmon’s father, Mike, told Larry Vaught of earlier this month that “We are still waiting on UK. … I think in (Zion’s) heart, he still likes UK a lot.”

Other than the 5-10 Tyler Ulis, Calipari in his UK days has never much gone for diminutive point guards.

People who want Kentucky to offer Harmon will point out that Ulis was named 2016-17 SEC Player of the Year and SEC Defensive Player of the Year.

Still, wherever Zion Harmon ends up playing college hoops, this much is clear:

By choosing to spend his high school hoops career in Kentucky (so far) he has attracted national attention to basketball in the commonwealth and made high school hoops here far more interesting.


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Mark Story has worked in the Lexington Herald-Leader sports department since Aug. 27, 1990, and has been a Herald-Leader sports columnist since 2001. I have covered every Kentucky-Louisville football game since 1994, every UK-U of L basketball game but three since 1996-97 and every Kentucky Derby since 1994.