ZHAO SIGNING

Sevier County’s Jonathan Zhao signed on Friday afternoon to play college basketball at Carson-Newman.

SEVIERVILLE — After committing around Christmas, Sevier County’s Jonathan Zhao made it official that he will be attending Carson-Newman University to play basketball with a signing ceremony on Friday afternoon.

Zhao, who is originally from California, wasn’t looking at any schools out West, but instead, he wanted to stay close to what he now considers home.

“There were a few schools out-of-state recruiting me, but I definitely wanted to stay around home and I feel like this is the place that I need to be,” he said.

Zhao averaged more than 22 points-per-game as a senior for the Smoky Bears, and he led them to 23 wins and the region tournament but he knows the college game is a completely different level.

The Eagles won the South Atlantic conference championship this winter going 16-6 overall and 11-5 in conference play before Tusculum beat them in the Southeast Regional quarterfinal.

Zhao said the Eagles are getting an extremely hard worker, and for him, working on improving his athleticism to handle to physicality in college is the number one priority this summer.

“I have never experienced that athleticism at the high school level,” he said. “You don’t see guys that are that athletic, but at the college level, every team has guys that are crazy athletic and doing stuff that I have never seen before.”

Zhao scored over 1,200 points and grabbed over 250 rebounds in his prep career at Sevier County, and the hope is that the 2-AAA District Player of the Year will be able to make an impact for the Eagles next winter.

“I feel like I am going to have to step up my game, but I think I will fit in right away,” Zhao said. “I hope to make an impact and I am excited for it.”