The only question we have is what took so long?
Duke freshman Zion Williamson, the top player in college basketball this season, finally announced he was declaring for the NBA Draft on Monday.
We’d say it ended months of speculation, but the truth is Williamson was headed for the draft even before he unpacked for his first day of school at Duke. He knew it, Coach K knew it and even ESPN’s Jay Bilas knew it.
“There’s never been a player like him to play basketball,” Bilas said earlier this season. “Not to say he’s the best player I’ve ever seen, but I’ve never seen anyone like him, I know that. All you have to do is watch him to know that this guy is different.”
Google “One And Done” and you’ll find Zion’s smile – and a photo of the exploded Nike that nearly put an end to his freshman season.
There is no doubt Williamson will be the first player taken in the draft. Scouts have anointed him the next coming of Lebron James, citing his size, athleticism, acumen and shooting ability. He checks all the boxes and likely has invented a few new ones for future generations to measure themselves.
The NBA holds its lottery on May 14 to determine who will have the pleasure of drafting Williamson. New York, Phoenix and Cleveland hold the best odds, followed by Chicago and Atlanta.
Wouldn’t it be ironic if the Cavs also win Williamson’s draft rights after immediately tanking in its second post-James era?
To his credit, Williamson sounded extremely gracious when making his announcement on Instagram on Monday. He seems to be a very nice kid. He called his year at Duke the best of his life and took the time to thank everyone who made it possible.
Of course, his life is about to become so much better. His NBA rookie contract will be enormous, but likely dwarfed, at least initially, by the boat load of cash he gets for endorsing someone’s shoe. If things line up, he will be a billionaire someday.
Williamson, 6-foot-7, 285 pounds, took the game on a thrill ride this season. He averaged 22.6 points and 8.9 rebounds while shooting 68 percent. He accumulated 14 double-doubles in points and rebounds. He won the Wooden Award and the Naismith Award and was named player of the year by the Associated Press and the U.S. Basketball Writers Association.
Leading a dynamic freshman class, Williamson helped Duke rise to No. 1 in the final AP Top 25 poll. It was the top overall seed in the NCAA tournament until they were defeated by Michigan State in the Elite Eight despite his 24 points, 14 rebounds, three steals and three blocks.
Along with his signature dunks, the highlight that will shadow him was created in the first minute of Duke’s home game with North Carolina in February. That’s when his left Nike – the PG 2.5 Paul George shoe – fell apart as he was making a cut and left him with a sprained right knee.
Not only did the injury spawn debate about whether he should endanger his future by returning to Duke, it also caused Nike’s stock to temporarily plummet. That led Nike to send a crew to Duke to figure out exactly what happened. The shoe company then outfitted Williamson in some kicks from Kyrie Irving’s line. And all was well.
Williamson’s announcement officially leaves Duke’s cupboard bare. It was preceded by opt-outs from fellow freshmen RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish. And one point early in the season a few draft experts were predicting the Blue Devils would be the top three players taken in the draft. While that now seems unlikely, at least the possibility remains.
“It was a dream of mine to play at Duke ever since I was a young kid. It was also a dream of mine to play NBA and have great success there,” Barrett said in a video released on Twitter.
Barrett led the Blue Devils in scoring (22.6) and was second in rebounds (7.6) and assists (4.3). He set a school record for freshman with 860 points.
A number of other players have also committed to the NBA Draft, including De’Andre Hunter and Ty Jerome from Virginia, Coby White and Nassir Little of North Carolina, PJ Washington of Kentucky, Gonzaga’s Rui Hachimura and Murray State’s Ja Morant.