If it sometimes seemed as if the Harlan Lady Dragons played as a family on their way to a 13th Region championship this season, it’s probably because there was a definite family connection running through the program.
King was the most popular name on the HHS roster this season with four on the team, including three sisters — Katie was a senior center, Mackenzie was a sophomore forward and Natalee was an eighth-grade wing. Amber King, a sophomore guard, is not related.
Even though no official statistics could be found, the Kings could be the first trio of sisters to score in the same state tournament game. All three had baskets in Harlan’s loss to Owensboro Catholic in the first round on Thursday at Northern Kentucky University.
“It was a joy to coach them. They are all different but the same in that they are tough young ladies,” said Harlan coach Derrick Akal. “Katie is cool under pressure, Kenzie is a leader and warrior, and Natalee is young but talented and will be a force in the 13th Region.”
“Getting to play on a team with both of your younger sisters is truly a blessing,” Katie said. “What I am most thankful for is they both are going to become better women from being a Lady Dragon and being coached by Derrick Akal. I luckily have gotten to spend the last three years with Kenzie. Watching her grow as a competitor and seeing her work ethic is amazing. Nat has the best and most caring heart. I know she will grow and mature and her love for the game will carry her through all the challenges that come with playing high school sports.”
“It’s always been fun having a sister on the team, but this year I had two,” Mackenzie said. “It’s pretty cool. Katie has always set good examples for all of us — she’s so strong, physically and mentally. She’s been a great leader and example for all of us. It’s going to feel different not having her next year. I look forward to watching Natalee grow as a player and find her role on this team.”
“Growing up, I was always at all of their games,” Natalee said. “I was water girl, manager or videoing all their games. But to be on the team with them, wearing the same uniform, I’ve learned I have big shoes to fill. Being a King girl means here are high expectations.”
The one aspect that all the King sisters shared is toughness and strength, especially the two older sisters who formed perhaps the region’s most physical frontcourt tandem.
Mackenzie is one of eastern Kentucky’s strongest players whose skill level continued to skyrocket this season as she averaged 7.6 points and a team-high 6.6 rebounds per game. She also improved her shooting, becoming another threat in the Harlan offense when opponents focused too much on stars Jordan Brock and Brooklyn Massingill. King exploded for 24 points, hitting six of nine 3-pointers, in Harlan’s win over Harlan County in the 52nd District Tournament championship game. King is also a star in track during the spring, winning regional titles as a freshman in the shot put and discus.
Katie, who averaged 2 points and 2. 2 rebounds per game, is the roughest of the group and likely led the region in charges taken, even though no official stats are available. She is also a standout singer with the Harlan Musettes, performing as both a player and singer in the state tournament last week. Katie spent much of the winter setting bone-jarring picks on a Saturday night, then singing with the praise team on Sunday morning at the Harlan Christian Church.
Natalee could end up being the best of the bunch before she’s finished, moving into a reserve role by the end of the year after starting for her dad’s middle school squad in the fall.
Mike King, a former football player at Harlan High School, coached all three of his daughters at the middle school level.
“Being a coach/parent is tough. You have to walk a thin line and be consistent. If you always do the right thing it usually works out,” Mike King said. “Every parent dreams of your child hitting the game winning shot. For me, it was a process. I was the man that volunteered, and I learned as I went. I never dreamed how rewarding it could be. Coaching your children doesn’t stop after the game. It’s in the car, at the supper table. It’s 24-7. I started coaching when Katie was in fourth grade and Kenz was in second, and for the next four years we traveled and played over 500 games.”
Lady Dragons basketball is truly a family project for the Kings. Mike and his wife, Amy, take turns keeping the scorebook at Harlan games with Mike handling the away games and Amy working the home games, where Mike shifts over a seat to run the clock.
“Playing a part in each of my daughter’s basketball experience from the very beginning and then be a witness to what they have achieved is the highlight of my life,” he said. “I have kept a journal with hundreds of stories and memories of things that happened during games and practice. I still keep it. I consider myself the luckiest man on the planet.”
With Katie moving on to college, Akal admits he’ll miss having all three sisters together next season.
“They were my personal reality show,” he said. “3 Kings!”
Jordan Brock is the most intense girls basketball player I’ve covered in 30-plus years on the job, even in a postgame interview room at the state tournament.
When a sports writer, even one from her hometown, asks a dumb question, she wastes no time by dancing around an answer.
“So, Jordan, since your team will again be one of the favorites for the 13th Region championship in 2017, does this trip to the Sweet Sixteen make you hungrier to come back?”
“Of course, it does,” Brock said. “Like I told you, we’ll back back.”
With three starters coming back, including Brock, the region’s top player in 2016, the Lady Dragons will be at or near the top of the preseason polls next October. A regional championship rematch seems very possible with Harlan County also bringing back its key players, plus a starter and key reserve who missed the last month or so of the season with injuries.
It was a memorable season in girls basketball for many reasons, including having the top two teams in the 13th Region for only the second time in the 42-year history of girls basketball in Kentucky.
Several milestones were set during the season, including both Jordan Brock and Brooklyn Massingill reaching the 2,000-point mark for their careers. Brock, a junior, passed Massingill, a senior, on the Lady Dragons’ final game of the year in the state tournament and moved into second place on the county’s all-time list. She should surpass former Cumberland star Lori Kluck for first in county history next season.
All-time leading scorers
Lori Kluck* 2,107* 1993
Jordan Brock* 2,068* 2017
Brooklyn Massingill* 2,067* 2016
Debbie Hoskins* 2,007* 1987