How Wichita high school basketball star found a new home after KSHSAA rejected transfer
Entering his senior season, Zion Young had claimed a place among the best high school basketball players in the Wichita area.
So it was most peculiar when the games began this winter and Young’s name was nowhere to be found. He was perfectly healthy, raring to go, but was not allowed to play the sport he loves because a ruling on the legitimacy of his transfer was being sorted out by the Kansas State High School Activities Association.
Every Tuesday and Friday was agonizing to Young, who was sidelined for the entire first semester at Wichita Heights after transferring from Campus, where he played the last two seasons.
Ultimately, Young’s appeal to KSHSAA to rule in favor of a bona fide move was denied, which meant he was ineligible to finish high school career at a KSHSAA-sanctioned school.
“Basketball is my everything, so once I heard they were taking it away from me, I didn’t know what to do,” Young said. “I’ve been playing basketball my whole life. Not being able to play hurt my heart and it took a big toll on me mentally.”
Here’s the story of Young’s contentious transfer and how he found a new school to finish out his school career and continue his basketball dream.
‘It felt like the world was against me’
Ahead of his senior year, Young said he started living with his mother, an elementary school principal in the USD 259 district, in a home located in the Heights district.
It was set to be his third school in four years after Young played his freshman season at Andover Central, then transferred to Campus, which has an open enrollment, for his sophomore and junior seasons.
The move sparked controversy because Young, a talented player, was poised to join a Heights team that was the defending Class 6A state champions with its core returning for another run at the title in 2023. The Falcons are currently 12-1 and ranked No. 2 in Class 6A this season.
Anytime a student-athlete transfers, the previous school and the new school must fill out a Certificate of Transfer form through KSHSAA. The previous school verifies academic eligibility and past athletic participation and at the bottom of the form is given the option to support or oppose eligibility for the student-athlete at their new school.
According to Young, Campus opposed his eligibility and cited Rule 18 in the KSHSAA handbook, which is designed to “eliminate school shopping” and prohibit recruiting when “the motivation (to transfer) is for activity purposes.”
School policy restricts Campus principal David Morford for discussing specifics on individual transfer cases, but in a statement sent to The Eagle, Morford said “we do wish any student who chooses to transfer the best of luck in their future endeavors.”
Heights coach Joe Auer and Campus coach Chris Davis also declined comment other than to wish Young well in the future.
Young was devastated when KSHSAA rejected his transfer as a bona fide move. He was allowed to continue to practice with Heights, but was unable to suit up for games.
“It felt like the world was against me,” Young said. “I kept thinking, ‘How could they take my senior season away?’ I was thinking I might never play basketball again, but I quickly started to realize this is just a moment and God has better and bigger things in store for me. That’s why I kept working every single day, but I can’t lie, it hurt me sitting there watching them at Heights play.”
In his appeal, Young said his mental health deteriorated in his last year at Campus following a racial harassment incident in school. Young said his appeal was rejected by a 4-2 vote, effectively ending his chances of playing for Heights this season.
“It put me in a dark place,” said Young, who said he struggles with anxiety and depression. “I was still coming out and playing basketball, but this was bigger than basketball. We still have lives outside of basketball. Just because you see me on the court smiling doesn’t mean when I get home I’m not still thinking about that stuff.”
‘It’s like they forgot about me’
In the immediate days following his appeal’s rejection with his future uncertain, Young found peace in solitude on a basketball court.
There was something soothing about the monotony of his routine: lift weights at the YMCA, then training sessions at Wichita Hoops.
“Basketball has always been there for me my whole life. It’s never let me down,” Young said. “Even when they tried to take it away from me, the game never left. When I’m mad, I go play basketball. When I’m sad, I go play basketball. When I felt like the world was against me, I went to play basketball. It’s what helped me clear my head. That’s why I love the game so much.”
But missing games was not only impacting his psyche, it was also negatively affecting his recruitment from college programs. When Young vanished from the high school basketball scene, so did the college coaches recruiting him.
“It was definitely impacting my recruiting because I stopped getting hit up by coaches and they stopped texting me,” Young said. “It’s like they forgot about me. They’re going to start hitting me up again, though. I’m confident.”
It was at a Wichita Hoops session with his trainer, Jordan Hart, when the idea to get Young back on the court playing again was hatched.
Hart suggested Young enroll at Life Prep Academy, a private school in Wichita that operates outside of KSHSAA sanctions. It also happens to be the school where Hart is leading an emerging boys basketball program.
Young was all-in on the idea, relieved at the notion he could remain in Wichita and finish out his senior season of high school basketball. Hart was more than happy to help out someone he had been training for the last three years.
“Zion’s story is truly amazing because he’s been through a lot,” Hart said. “Just to see his growth and patience and staying mentally and physically locked in, even though everything he’s going through. After being around him a lot and getting to know him, he fits the mold for our program. He’s a great kid with good character and good morals and he obviously brings a dynamite spark to the basketball court, which is something that any team needs.”
‘This has been the happiest week of my life’
When it was finally time to play in his first game, Young had already calculated how long it had been since he scored his last high school basket.
“258 days later…Gameday,” Young tweeted before Life Prep’s game on Jan. 13.
Young made sure to put on a show in his debut performance, scoring 25 points to lead Life Prep to a victory over an Oklahoma City home school team.
“That was something that I’ve been wanting to do for a long, long time now,” Young said in a telephone interview following the game. “I couldn’t stop smiling when I got in the game. I let it all out tonight.”
Hart is confident Young will thrive in the environment at Life Prep, which plays its home games at Wichita Sports Forum. While the team competes mostly against home-school opponents, it also occasionally plays KSHSAA schools and showed its potential in a 61-50 win over Wichita Independent, which stands as the only loss of the season for the No. 1-ranked team in Class 2A.
Young also comes from a strong basketball background; his father, Steve, is a prominent youth basketball coach in Wichita, while his oldest brother, Steven, helped lead Kapaun Mt. Carmel to a 2012 state championship and his other older brother, Roman, had a successful college basketball career at Chaminade.
“He’s always been locked in when it comes to training,” Hart said. “He’s always practicing like he’s playing in a game. I’ve worked a lot with him and talked about attitude. Someone can always be watching you and Zion has the maturity to keep that switch on all the time. I think a lot of people forgot about him and some college teams are going to miss out on something real special.”
Young said he is acclimating quickly to the new school and enjoying playing basketball again, but he admits it’s hard not to wonder what it would have been like if he had been allowed to play at Heights.
Like any basketball showman, he craves and feeds off the electricity of a crowd like the ones that routinely pack Heights’ gymnasium. Life Prep plans to travel to Tennessee later in the spring to compete for a National Association of Christian Athletes national championship, but it’s hard to rival the adrenaline rush of playing nightly in the City League and potentially at Koch Arena in the state tournament. He was also looking forward to playing with “childhood” friends in Heights stars Marcus Zeigler and T.J. Williams.
“I was really looking forward to playing in that environment for coach Auer and with some of my close friends,” Young said. “I wish it would have worked out.”
But Young has chosen not to dwell on the past. It’s all part of a bigger plan, Young says.
At Life Prep, he has discovered the next chapter of his journey.
“This has been the happiest week of my life,” Young said after his first game back. “People don’t know how bad I’ve been wanting to play. I’ve had to watch everybody and support everybody else and just sit back on the bench. But it was finally me out there playing. It was just really exciting and just a huge relief off my shoulders to get back out there. It’s good to be back.”