Tom Molnar | Sun, 2 Jun 2019
Back in mid-April, college basketball sensation Zion Williamson declared his eligibility for the 2019 NBA draft after only his freshman year for the Duke Blue Devils. With this, one of the most decorated and hyped players will soon be bringing his unique and outstanding talent to the National Basketball Association. Williamson is regarded as a generational player with his incredible ability to move about and dunk whilst being listed at 6 ft 7 in and 129 kg. Some think he is the next Lebron James, who is considered by many as the greatest basketball player of all time. James has won three NBA championships and four MVP awards since entering the 2003 NBA Draft straight from high school, going first overall to the Cleveland Cavaliers. According to several sports analysts, Zion is projected to be the first overall pick, which is held by the New Orleans Pelicans as they won the 2019 NBA Draft Lottery. After being compared to many legends of the sport, can this young superstar fulfil the hype or be another bust?
In his freshman year at Spartanburg Day School in South Carolina, Williamson, aged 13 at the time, started being able to dunk after growing from 5 ft 9 to 6 ft 3 throughout the year. He then became an internet phenomenon after videos of him slam dunking emerged, drawing national attention towards him. He averaged 36 points per game across his last two years of high school and scored over 3000 points throughout his high school basketball career, making him a consensus five-start recruit and ranking among the top five players in the 2018 class. When Zion was a freshman in high school, Wofford gave him his first basketball scholarship offer. The next year, he held offers from 16 NCAA Division 1 programs, including top schools Clemson, Florida, and South Carolina. However, he made it clear he was withholding any acceptance until his senior year, when, in a live telecast on ESPN, he committed to Duke University, who landed the top three recruits that year in Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish. During his time in high school, Zion Williamson led his team to three state championships whilst on high school and earned South Carolina Mr. Basketball recognition in his senior season, and left as a McDonald’s All-American, runner-up for Mr. Basketball USA, and USA Today All-USA first team honouree.
Whilst at college, Williamson continued his form from high school by breaking the Duke freshman debut scoring record alongside R.J Barrett with 28 points. In the following game, he tallied 27 points, 15 rebounds, and 5 blocks, subsequently being named both player and freshman of the week in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Throughout his freshman year, he claimed ACC Rookie of the Week five times as well as setting the single-game school scoring record for freshman in January 2019 with 35 points in a 95-91 overtime loss to Syracuse. However, on February 20th, Williamson suffered a Grade 1 knee sprain against North Carolina after his foot ripped through his shoe, causing him to slip. As a result of the incident, his shoe’s manufacturer, Nike, saw its stock market value drop by $1.1 billion the day after. Despite the setback, he went on to lead Duke to the ACC Tournament championship game against Florida State, which Duke won 73-63 and Williamson was named ACC Tournament MVP, the sixth freshman to do so. Unfortunately, the very impressive season came to an end in a 68-67 loss to Michigan State in the Elite 8 stage of the 2019 NCAA Tournament. In what is expected to be his only season of college basketball, Zion Williamson collected 500 points, 50 steals, and 50 steals as a freshman, joining Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis in this prestigious group. He was also named ACC Player of the Year and ACC Rookie of the Year, making this one of the greatest seasons ever by a freshman.
With all this success in high school and college, one must question whether Zion Williamson can continue this insane and freakish run when facing professionals in the NBA. As one of the most hyped up players since Lebron James, there are doubts that he cannot match expectations after entering the 2019 NBA Draft at such a young age and with only one year of college experience. However, Williamson, weighing in at 129 kg, will be in the top tier of heaviest players in the NBA, which is why he is deemed a generational player because he brings athleticism unheard of with such weight. Many believe he is Lebron-esque, but it can be argued he could be a far better player and the beginning of a new era in professional basketball, as Golden State’s Kevin Durant described him as a “once-in-a-generation type athlete.” One thing does remain clear – he is a gifted young man that is sure to change a franchise for the better.