Zion Harmon has changed high schools a few times, a fact that has brought headlines and headaches but isn’t worth spending a lot of time on here. We care less about eligibility drama than we do whether a kid can play.
And this kid can hoop.
A 5-11, 175-pound junior-to-be, Harmon has spent the past few years making his case as the best point guard in the 2021 class. He showed that most recently in March, at the final of the Grind Session, where he led Bella Vista (AZ) Prep to a 96-94 victory over LaMelo Ball and SPIRE (OH) Institute. Harmon went for 23 points, 9 rebounds and 6 dimes in the title game, just the latest example of him showing out against elite competition. It’s all the more impressive considering how his 2018-19 season began.
Harmon missed hooping last fall due in part to an ankle injury, and because the Kentucky High School Athletic Association deemed him ineligible after an offseason transfer to Marshall County (KY) High. Ultimately, he ended up staying enrolled at Marshall County while temporarily relocating to Bella Vista to hoop. “It took a lot of prayer,” Harmon says of being sidelined. “I would be mad for no reason, or I’d just walk around real quiet some days. Somebody’d think something is wrong with me, but it’s just the fact that I couldn’t play. It just kind of threw me off.”
It wasn’t easy, but Harmon turned his frustration with being sidelined into an advantage. “I try to look at everything as a lesson,” he says. “I didn’t want to fall behind just because I was off the court, so I learned how to watch the game more, observe the game, study the game. I really started studying the little things, not just watching.”
Indeed, Harmon is a dude who thrives on basketball, whether playing, watching or working to get better. It’s been that way for a while, and family has more than a little to do with it. Harmon says he started getting up for 6 am workouts with his dad and older brother Zalmico (who played at UC Santa Barbara) when he was just 7 or 8 years old—and that around the same age, he was getting dropped off at the airport and flying solo across the country for workouts. It might sound extreme to some, but not to Zion: “My dad was trying to get me ready for the real world.” And here he makes one thing clear: “When it comes to basketball, he never forced me to play. It had to be something I wanted to do, something I love to do. That’s my future, and I reap what I sew.”
Zion’s dad, Mike, says his motivation is easy to explain. “To develop and play at a high level takes sacrifice,” Mike says. “We’re Christian people, so we believe in the power of sacrifice. When you get up early in the morning, you put that work in, that sacrifice, it pays off.”
It certainly has so far. While it’s not clear what Zion’s future holds beyond this summer, he knows he’s put in the work, and sees no reason to stop. Asked if he expects his peers to be doing the same, Harmon is blunt.
“They better be,” he says. “I like competition.”
Ryan Jones is a Contributing Editor at SLAM. Follow him on Twitter at @thefarmerjones.
Portraits by Jonathan Izquierdo.