Zion Harmon is still at Marshall County. He's still eligible to play basketball for the Marshals this season. There are no changes expected to alter that plan.

It's a stark contrast to the 2018-19 season for the five-star junior point guard, in Draffenville by way of Adair County and before that, Bowling Green, after a lengthy process between Harmon, his father (Mike), Marshall County administration and the KHSAA -- which eventually saw its way into courtrooms in both Benton and Paducah.

The long, stressful process over, it's time for the 18-year old to play basketball.

And, last year, having fully expected Harmon to contribute as a sophomore, Marshall's schedule was more favorable with him than it was without him.

Still, the Marshals stuck it out. Of the Marshals' 19 losses, 13 were dropped by single-digits.

The problem? Scoring.

"We couldn't seem to get a big basket at key times, especially in the later parts of the games," Marshall County coach Terry Birdsong said. "We now have a facilitator in Harmon and can put a good shooting/scoring team on the court with him. Offensively, we feel he will solve many of the struggles we had last year. We were pretty solid last year defensively but gave up too many direct drives for easy baskets late in games, especially against the schedule we played. We lost 13 games by single digits, so we must take that next step and win those games this go-around."

There's a highly-touted matchup early in the season for Marshall, too.

On Dec. 13, the fifth game of the season for the Marshals features the meeting of the First Region's top two players -- Harmon and McCracken County forward Jackson Sivills, who is signed to play at Murray State.

With each team's supporting cast, there's every chance regulation won't be enough to decide the game, which will be played at Reed Conder Gymnasium in Draffenville.

Murray to start season without top two players

When a school as small as Murray -- in All "A" in everything but football, where it's Class 2A -- fields athletic teams, more often than not, its students are multi-sport athletes.

Such is the case with its basketball team, where star players Hunter Utley (guard) and Tommy Waldrop (forward) each play more than one sport as members of the school's football team. Utley plays three. In the spring, he pitches and plays second base on the baseball team.

So, when one or more of that type of athlete is injured playing one sport, it often trickles to the rest.

During football season, seniors Utley and Waldrop suffered significant injuries.

Utley injured his right (throwing) wrist, while Waldrop broke his left collarbone. Both were season-ending maladies on the gridiron and are forcing the pair to miss the start of basketball season, too.

Junior forward DiJon Miles injured his knee, too.

So, it's the worst kind of trifecta for the Tigers, who won 16 games and a Fourth District title a season ago.

On a team with perhaps not as much depth as one might like, it'll be crucial to see what the other contributors do in their absence.

"A lot of our team plays multiple sports, and we have already been hit with the injury bug," Murray coach Dior Curtis said. "Last season during our run in All 'A' we had two key injuries at a crucial time. We hope to be healthy and compete at a high level (by the time All 'A' comes)."

In the paint, the task will fall to senior Darius Duffy -- himself a prolific rebounder to begin with -- to help replicate some of Waldrop's scoring, while freshman guard Grant Whitaker, who was a vital piece of the offense last season as an eighth-grader, will have to do more without Utley in the lineup.

"Hunter was our leading scorer his sophomore year and second-leading scorer last year behind Ravichael Strickland, so we expect him to be even more productive this season," Curtis said. "Grant was our third-leading scorer last season, and he continues to improve his game so he will be competing as well."

Calloway, Cleaver pressing on after pair of 11-win seasons

Calloway County coach Brad Cleaver is 22-35 in his first two seasons at the helm for the Lakers, both times on the outside looking in when the First Region tournament began.

This season, Cleaver will be relying on four of last year's starters, Kade Butler, Cade Mize, Chandler Steele and Ki Franklin, as well as Evan Garrison, Jarrett Darnell and Montrell Rogers to be a seven-man rotation for the Lakers, who will be without Jackson Chapman (heart issue) for the entire season.

While keeping up communication is important for any team, even the healthy ones, it's absolutely vital for one that isn't at 100%.

"We will continue to focus on the importance of strong communication on and off the court," Cleaver said.

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