Three years after Rick Stansbury gave Zion Harmon his first scholarship offer, the state’s highest rated recruit is choosing Western Kentucky.

The Marshall County junior, whose smooth scoring and passing ability has garnered national recognition and made him the most sought-after prospect in Kentucky, announced his verbal commitment to Stansbury and the Hilltoppers on Tuesday as the first member of their Class of 2021.

One of the best playing moments happened for Harmon when, as an eighth grader, he helped Bowling Green High School win a state championship in 2017. Before that title, Harmon caught Stansbury’s attention and the Hilltoppers’ coach never let up in his recruitment.

That initial contact from Stansbury went a long way in Harmon’s decision.

“Just him being the first D-I college coach to recruit me and show interest and stick with me the whole way, it showed that he really wanted me and he’s going to allow me to play my game and it just seemed like the great fit,” Harmon said in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon with the Daily News.

A source close to the team told the Daily News that there are no plans for Harmon to reclassify to the Class of 2020. WKU already has Collins High School guard Dayvion McKnight signed to the Class of 2020 and has a verbal commitment from Kylen Milton, a senior from Conway, Ark.

Harmon, ranked the No. 1 prospect in Kentucky and eighth-best point guard in the nation by 247Sports, is the highest-rated guard to commit to WKU. Rated a four-star recruit, he chose the Hilltoppers over No. 1 Kansas, Maryland, Seton Hall and Murray State.

An offer from Louisville was on the table during that period, but the Cardinals stopped recruiting him a few weeks ago. When weighing the mid-major and the college blue bloods, Harmon said the current pedigree didn’t weigh too much into his decision.

He believes Stansbury helps make WKU one of the top programs anyway.

“A lot of passion and a lot of tradition,” Harmon said of the Hilltoppers. “He doesn’t run it like a mid-major. He’s been at an SEC school before and he brings that energy to the school. With me coming there, it can’t do anything but get better.”

Harmon’s journey has been a long one. The Bethesda, Md., native grew up in the Washington D.C. area and moved to Tennessee as a seventh-grader and attended Lighthouse Christian School in Antioch.

Stansbury was the first to offer Harmon during his eighth-grade year at Bowling Green Junior High. He played up to the Bowling Green High School varsity team and averaged 16.8 points in leading the Purples to a 36-2 record and a 2017 state championship. The 5-foot-11 Harmon was classmates with Stansbury’s son Noah at BGJHS and teammates with his oldest son, Isaac, on Bowling Green’s state championship team.

The summer after that title in 2017, he won a gold medal with the USA Basketball U16 National Team in the FIBA Americas Championship in Argentina.

Harmon enrolled the next season at Adair County the next season and averaged 32.7 points per game. He transferred the next season to Marshall County, but had to sit out a season because of Kentucky High School Athletic Association transfer rules.

He spent that season playing for Bella Vista Prep in Arizona while still attending Marshall County High School. He averaged 25.4 points as a junior for the Marshals, who went 23-11 and lost in the Region 1 championship game.

“I’ve grown as a person and a player,” Harmon said. “I wouldn’t redo anything. Some people may not have liked the way I did things, but it’s my decisions and I’ll live with them. … Outside voices don’t really understand and see the things I’ve been looking at and if they (had seen), probably 99 percent of them would choose the exact same thing we did. But we’ve seen and understood from a different perspective and different positions. We’re going where it’s best for my future and my game.”

Harmon took visits to E.A. Diddle Arena for Hilltopper Hysteria last fall and was in attendance for WKU’s game against Southern Mississippi on Feb. 8.

He played three games at Diddle Arena with the Purples in winning a Region 4 championship. With Tuesday’s verbal commitment, it brings Harmon back to the city where his profile really took off.

“(Stansbury) knows I’m a player who gets players involved who can also score, especially when I have shooters and athletic players around me,” Harmon said. “When he talks about me, he talks about playing my game. And that’s every school, but he’s really told me he changes his offense to the players and has a lot of live ball screens and I’d be the primary point guard for sure. Him being the historic coach he is, it seemed like the perfect fit.”{&end}

– Follow WKU athletics beat writer Elliott Pratt on Twitter @EPrattBGDN or visit bgdailynews.com.

Covering the Western Kentucky University athletics beat for the Bowling Green Daily News.

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