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Westtown's Zahra King brings NYC style everywhere she goes

01/10/2023, 2:15pm EST
By Owen McCue

Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue)
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EAST FALLS — Zahra King followed her older brother to the parks near her Brooklyn home growing up.

It’s where Westtown’s 5-foot-9 guard crafted her distinct style of play. It’s where she developed that energy and passion that fires up her teammates. It’s where she learned how to keep the ball on string and blow by defenders. It’s where ‘ZK from BK’ first carried the swagger she brings with her every time she touches the court. 

“My dad said he saw something in me when I was young, so I just kept and kept going with it and I actually fell in love with the game,” said King, a high-major 2024 recruit.

“I think I just bring that New York kind of energy and swag that is incomparable,” she added. “It’s kind of, I have a different flow to the game that can be appreciated, and that can help us during the different times during the game.”

King arrived in West Chester three seasons ago. The high-academic student started her high school career at the prestigious Léman Manhattan Private School. The uncertainty caused by the COVID pandemic in 2020-21 prompted her to explore other options and Westtown provided a place to cultivate her athletic and academic talents.

“My AAU coach called my mom and was like, ‘There’s this boarding school. They want you,’ and my mom said, ‘Heck no, uh-uh,’” King said. “So my AAU coach said, ‘Come on, just give them a chance.’ We came and visited the school and absolutely loved it, loved coach Fran [Burbidge] and everything that he said we were working toward. Ultimately, that’s why I came.”


Westtown junior guard Zahra King plays an exciting brand of basketball stemming from her NYC roots. (Photo: Owen McCue/CoBL)

King’s had eyes on her for quite some time now. College coaches were intrigued by her talents beginning in middle school as she played for the New Heights NYC grassroots program. She has "10 to 15" Division I offers, including Cincinnati, Auburn, Harvard, Clemson and most recently from Penn State in October. 

She took a visit to State College this fall and will be lining up several more after the Moose’s season, mentioning Harvard, Marquette and Clemson as a few of the schools she’s hoping to check out.

“She’s a real athletic kid, she gets to the rim, she shoots the three, she shoots foul shots,” Burbidge said. “She’s got a good midrange game, handles the ball well when she doesn’t over bounce it. She has all the tools to be successful at a high level moving forward. As with all the kids who are that skilled and those types of players, there’s so many when you get there. They’re all like that. It’s the mental part of it. It’s the physical toughness part.”

“She’s starting to embrace that now,” he added.

King said there is a little bit of street ball to her game. Her energy, swagger and IQ are all major parts that feed into her success on the court. She’s creative and a wizard with the ball in her hands. Like many who grow up playing in New York City, she isn’t shy about her ability to get past her defender.

“That’s probably a part of my game that I like the most, my ability to take somebody off the bounce with ease,” King said. “ I don’t think there’s anybody who can really guard me. That’s a major part of my game that I really like, that New York style and I learned about that when I was young.”

King and senior Grace Sundback, a Delaware commit, are the only three-year players on this Westtown team. The Moose have looked to King, who stepped into the program as a young guard, to rise to the occasion in her junior campaign.

“She’s a really good kid, high academic kid, pure spirit type of kid,” Burbidge said. “It is her third year and it is a point now where … the expectations of who she should be and how she should be has been raised.”

Part of the maturation Burbidge is looking for from King this season is letting the game come to her. 

King’s growing maturity was on display in Westtown’s 55-40 win over Shabach Christian (Md.) on Sunday at the Blue Star High School Invitational at Jefferson University. She led the Moose with 19 points, including 15 in the second half.

After displaying patience in the first half, she took over in the third quarter with a string of buckets, including an and-one, that fired up her teammates and helped the Moose take control of a game that was teetering.

“For me personally, I just took what the defense gave me,” King said. “I knew I still had to figure out how to keep the momentum in our hands. At the moment, I just had moments to go get layups, get buckets, make good passes. I just read the floor and I think I read it really well.”

“That was the important thing, for them to understand,” Burbidge said. “You’re a really skilled kid and a talented kid and we want you to use that, we’re not taking it away from you, but understanding if you allow the game to come to you a little bit and … don’t make it so tough on yourself, those results are still going to happen.”

King had her physical and mental toughness tested last offseason. After tearing two ligaments in her ankle and missing most of the AAU season, she worked her way back onto the court via the parks she once developed her game.

By the start of last season, she was back to full physical health and mentally past the injury, earning second team all-state honors for the second consecutive season as she helped the Moose to a Friends League title and the program’s first PAISA title.

“It was trying to get my confidence back and all that, which I really worked on in 2021 to be able to come back in 2022,” King said.

Pa. Gatorade Player of the Year Kaylene Smikle (Rutgers) and Meliah Van-Otoo (Loyola-Maryland) were two of the captains last season along with Sundback. 

King’s game is boisterous. Throughout her career, she often has been able to let that do her talking for her.

With Smikle and Van-Otoo gone this season and an infusion of young talent, including eighth graders Jordyn Palmer and Jessie Moses, she’s used her actual voice more often to lead the way.

“I think definitely the thing I’ve been working on most is my ability to lead,” King said. “Usually, I’m not as vocal. I don’t talk. I like to lead by my actions. I realized that being able to lead by your voice goes a long way as well. I think I’ve been doing a great job with it this season.”

The Moose are turning into one of the local prep powers under Burbidge, who is in his fourth season. Westtown looks like one of the clearcut favorites to three-peat in the FSL and repeat as PAISAA champions.

A budding Friends’ Central program appears to be the Moose’s toughest challenge in the league. Last season’s state runner-up Penn Charter will certainly be looking to dethrone Westtown.

King and her teammates are laser focused on what’s in front of them. The goal is quite simple.

“We’re coming for the state chip 100 percent,” King said.


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