Lawrence High’s Zaxton King hopes summer work boosts basketball growth
photo by: Conner Becker/Special to the Journal-World
Lawrence High guard Zaxton King defined himself as a promising basketball player as a sophomore last season and will kick off the two most important years of his college recruitment this summer on the AAU Under Armour circuit before classes resume in August.
Zaxton’s older brother, Zavion, has been at the heart of his offseason development.
As someone who went through the AAU process himself during high school, Zavion’s well-versed in Lawrence basketball. He donned an LHS uniform before graduating in 2016 and leaving the game behind to study kinesiology at Washburn. Zavion serves as a physical education instructor at Auburn Elementary School in Topeka.
“Since my brother’s been living here, he’s able to help me out with basically anything when it comes to basketball,” said Zaxton King, who has joined Olathe-based Run GMC for AAU competition. “And my dad, he’s always around too, so it’s definitely been helpful.”
Expanding his shot range while retaining a reliable jumper has been a core part of his on-court workouts. Aside from the usual conditioning and weight training, Zavion believes prepping his brother for the heavy demands of AAU games is fundamental to staying competitive this summer.
Despite leading LHS in scoring this past season, Zaxton shot just 31% from behind the arc. The Lions fed off the 6-foot-2 sophomore’s confidence in the lane and strong finish.
“At LHS, (Zaxton) had the ball in his hands and could control the pace a lot,” Zavion King said. “With Run GMC, it’s just running the whole time. You’re playing basketball fast, so this biggest thing we’ve pushed is conditioning.”
But Zaxton’s brother hasn’t had the only voice in his ear this offseason.
Clyde and Cherice King, Zaxton’s parents, are regulars at every workout, game or tournament. The most recent was the Midwest Elite Showcase in Kansas City, Missouri, an event featuring high school basketball prospects from across Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, Oklahoma and more.
When it comes to encouragement and development during the offseason, Clyde King said having that support at a young age is crucial. He also played high school basketball and signed a letter of intent to play at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff before choosing not to join the team.
“We’re a close-knit family,” Clyde King said. “Even when they were just little babies, everybody went to the games. If there aren’t any (schedule) conflicts, the whole family is there. We’re just supporting him as he goes down his journey.”
Zaxton fostered an ambition to raise his game as an eighth-grader at Southwest Middle School playing with KAN Do Hoops, an area youth basketball organization.
He broke out at LHS just two years later, averaging a team-best 19 points per game and hitting 76% of attempts from the free-throw line. Zaxton hopes to translate that output to Run GMC.
Zaxton isn’t unfamiliar to the AAU, though, as he previously competed on the Nike circuit before transferring to the Under Armour circuit this spring.
“I haven’t seen too many Under Armour teams, but I’m not nervous about it,” Zaxton King said. “I don’t have a huge idea about the teams, but I know they had very good records and I expect to compete with any team we play.”
Run GMC, founded in 2003, has developed several NCAA Division I players, including recent Kansas men’s basketball departures Ochai Agbaji and Christian Braun — both of whom were selected in the first round of the NBA Draft last month.
Zaxton began summer workouts with LHS freshman boys basketball coach Anthony Bonner, the former Colorado State shooting guard and a family friend, during the fall.
“(Bonner) was my favorite player growing up,” King said. “I loved watching him play. And now that’s my coach and I get to be trained by him and stuff, it’s been really fun.”
With a focus on mid-range shooting and endurance, Bonner’s building up Zaxton’s full package before the AAU season goes full swing, including one major element — mental toughness.
“I’ve tried to get him really tired at the beginning of the workouts, just like a real-game situation,” Bonner said. “That’s when it’s hardest to focus on the little details. But I’ve never had to push his effort. First and foremost that’s one of my favorite parts about training Zaxton. He’s a lunch pail and hard hat kind of guy.”
“I think getting his first year in varsity basketball and having to play you know, 28 to 30 plus minutes, that’s hard on your body or cardio. I’m not necessarily sure he was as mentally prepared for the cardio playing every quarter and being so dependent on as a young guy, but I was very happy to see him thrust in that role early.”
Spending five days a week working out with Zavion and Bonner, Zaxton enters the next phase of his basketball development with a Lawrence-grown advantage.
His first tournament, the Atlanta UA circuit opener, began Thursday.
“I’m just ready to watch the show,” Zavion said. “He’s going into his junior year and he’ll be the best player in (Kansas Class) 6A. Getting to watch the best player front row, every single night for the next two seasons, I’m just going to sit back because I know the work he’s put in.”