TOMORROW we should see Zion Williamson take to the court for the first time since his knee injury against North Carolina three weeks ago. Should. Zion’s injury has thrown the sporting world into debate and while Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has remained adamant that the consensus No. 1 overall pick will hit the floor during ACC tournament play there are still doubts over whether Williamson has played his last game as a Blue Devil.
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YOU could argue that there is nothing left for Zion to achieve at a collegiate level. He has cemented himself as the favourite to be the first player selected come draft night after his stellar 26 games at Duke to date. You couldn’t find an NBA GM that wouldn’t draft him with the first overall pick come June and if you do – they’re lying. Just this weekend the Spartanburg native was named the ACC Player and Rookie of the year. Former Duke standouts in recent times Marvin Bagley (2018) and Jahlil Okafor (2015) are the only other two players to claim both honours as Coach K continues to turn the Blue Devils into a freshman one-and-done factory.
Williamson’s accolades only further confirm that this kid is special. We saw the ball of muscle become a viral sensation in high school leading to he, R.J. Barrett and Cameron Reddish becoming the first top-3 ranked high school players to commit to the same school. We tend to forget but back when he pledged his loyalty to Durham there was still a conversation over whether Zion or R.J. was the favourite to be the top overall selection. This is no longer a conversation.
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SO with his future clearly mapped out a return to the collegiate game seems like nonsense to some. I mean at just 18 years old, with a projected record-breaking shoe deal on the way, he could lose out on millions of dollars by returning and getting hurt again. All he has to do now is wait until the Draft lottery to see which new city he’ll call home, right? I’m not of the same belief.
EVEN if (god forbid) something were to happen to Zion injury-wise when he returns for Duke, I’m still banking on an NBA team taking him first or at the very worst second overall in the hope that he pans out as the generational talent we all expect. Williamson is unlike any basketballer we have ever seen, there is literally no comparison to his game, body and potential ceiling.
We saw a similar thing happen with Kyrie Irving when he was taken first overall in the 2011 Draft despite playing just 11 games for the Blue Devils. Irving battled a toe injury throughout his sole season at Duke, sitting out over three months of action before returning in the NCAA Tournament. It didn’t lead to Irving and Co claiming the ultimate prize, losing to Derrick Williams (who was taken second overall after Kyrie in that same draft) and Arizona in the Sweet 16, despite Kyrie dropping 28 points in perhaps his best game at the college level.
HOWEVER, that tourney run is something that Kyrie and in turn Zion know they will only get a chance to experience once in their lifetime. If Williamson is able to win a few more games than Irving in the 2019 corresponding tournament – very likely – and capture the Blue Devils’ 6th championship in school history, why wouldn’t he return to school? It would be a different story if Zion was playing for a middle of the road team and another injury could cost him the chance of being drafted in the lottery, first round, or being drafted all together, but that’s not the case.
THIS Duke team will be talked about for years to come, but their postseason aspirations hinge on Zion’s return, especially now big man Marques Bolden will miss at least the ACC tournament with an MCL injury. We all know this will be Williamson’s only year at college and with his draft stock arguably untouchable there are just too many pros for him to not return to the court. Win, loss or draw, these final few months with his star-studded freshman peers will be something Zion remembers for the rest of his life.
The knee sprain he suffered at North Carolina could have happened 12 months from now in the NBA, 12 months ago in high school, at practice, or playing pickup, so let’s not all overreact to the situation at hand. Some clamour stating that he should be in the NBA already, yet the collegiate experience still has some benefits to prospects, with Zion only further enhancing his legacy by joining Coach K’s ‘brotherhood’. While there is a chance we have seen the last of Zion in a Blue Devil’s uniform I’m sure he’ll make the right decision for his future, short and long term, and nothing else. Although with a potential national title in Duke’s sights, he should consider suiting up again soon.
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