By the time you read this, North Carolina may have knocked Duke out of the ACC Tournament. They will play Friday night and the Tar Heels, like the Blue Devils, are a legitimate national championship contender.
Still, we feel the need to discuss what Zion Williamson did Thursday night in the quarterfinals against Syracuse.
That the freshman is Lebron James reincarnate has been on an endless reel all season. You hear it and you say to yourself, “He’s damn good, but that just can’t be. Nobody can do what The King can do.”
Well, maybe someone can.
“I’ve been in this game over 50 years, and I’ve seen some great players,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. “I’m not saying he’s better than those guys, but he can do things nobody has done in this game. He’s crazy. He’s a different type of player. There’s not guys like him.”
Williamson had not played in a month, since his Nike blew up like a watermelon thrown off the roof on a 10-story building in the first minute the last time Duke and North Carolina played.
Everybody saw it. No one believed it. Nike’s stock dipped. And Williamson suffered a knee sprain. That’s when the rumors started that the kid might not, better yet should not, play another college game in order to protect his marketability for the 2019 NBA Draft.
The conjecture about his future put Williamson into full belly-laugh mode. There was no way he’d abandon his teammates in midstream, especially after it lost three of the six games he missed. He was just waiting to get better.
Within the first two minutes of the game against the Orange, without wearing a brace, Williamson provided a powerful dunk that served notice that The Prince was back and maybe better than ever.
And when the game was done, Williamson had made each of his 13 shots, scored 29 points, 14 rebounds and five steals. The 13-for-13 game tied the ACC record for most makes without a miss. The 25-10-5 thread was the first for a Dukie since the irrepressible Christian Laettner 27 years ago.
“Everybody has their right to an opinion, but I knew I was coming back the whole time,” Williamson said.
If there was anything amiss about his performance it was his 2-of-9 clunker from the free throw line.
“I wouldn’t say perfect night,” Williamson said. “Like, I couldn’t really throw a tennis ball into the ocean with my free throws, so I don’t consider that perfect.”
Just remember, neither Wilt Chamberlain or Shaquille O’Neal couldn’t shoot them either. And Oklahoma’s Steven Adams is shooting .525 this season and he is making just over $24 million.
The acclaim for Williamson is just beginning. He is the ACC’s player of the year, even though he missed a month. He is a game-changer on offense and defense. His hands are quick enough to make steals. His legs are fast enough to carry him down the floor. And he’s powerful enough to rattle rims.
When the NBA Lottery is held, the New York Knicks, Phoenix Suns or some other lucky duck is going to have a chance to pick him No. 1 and change the course of franchise history.
If you happen to drop by a Nike outlet shop this weekend, you should know Williamson was wearing Paul George sneakers when he suffered his blowout. This was not the first time it had happened to him. He said he burst through the toe of a Kyrie Irving shoe over the summer.
Did you know that Nike’s consternation over the North Carolina mishaps was so pronounced it sent emissaries to the Duke campus to meet with their clients? Once that was done, they traveled to China – likely not wearing Georges of Kyries – to engineer a better version of the Kyrie 4 model with more padding.
Williamson was also told not to wear the same shoes over and over again, so now he changes up every week to two weeks.
“We’re thrilled to see Zion returning to the court,” said Nike in a statement. “After working closely with the Duke team to examine the issue, we are confident this was an isolated incident. We continue to work with Duke, and all of our partner programs, to ensure we are providing the best product for their athletes.”
As Spike Lee said, “It must be the shoes!” How else can you explain the best shooting performance in 66 years of ACC tournaments?
If you want to know, Williamson was wearing Kyrie 4s against Syracuse. Nike gave him a few pairs to last through the NCCA Tournament.
If he wears them well, Duke might be a shoe-in to win the NCAA championship.