The time has come again to heap ascendant praise on the next man-child poised to drop the NBA into a dunk tank.
Duke freshman Zion Williamson is not your average player. His skill doesn’t seem to be of this earth, like that of common men such as past MVPs James Harden or Russell Westbrook.
You listen to enough people and you get the sense Williamson’s skill is more stratospheric or transcendent, that he’s a meteor in a galaxy of lightning bugs.
Wait for it: He’s the next Lebron James.
We do not idly draw this comparison. We offer it because just the other day James himself was asked what about himself he saw in the kid.
“What strikes me? His agility and his quickness,” James said. “For his size, how strong he is, to be able to move like the way he moves, he’s very impressive. I mean, everybody can see the athleticism. That’s obviously, that’s ridiculous. But the speed and the quickness that he moves [with] at that size is very impressive.”
This is NBA All-Star weekend in Charlotte, N.C., which is about 170 miles from Raleigh-Durham where Duke’s idyllic campus waits for the azaleas to bloom again.
And since everyone with any importance in the league is there, the subject of Williamson will be popular because it is generally assumed he will one-and-done the Blue Devils and make himself available to one of the dregs that wins the first pick in the NBA Draft lottery.
Goodness gracious, even Dabo Swinney, coach of Clemson’s national champion football team, deposited his two cents about Williamson by telling ESPN radio that the kid, who is 6-foot-7, 292 pounds without his Nikes, could play any position he wanted.
“I’d put [Williamson] at tight end or wideout or [defensive] end or wherever he wanted,” Swinney said. “We might even put him at quarterback.”
It was at this point Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski told Swinney that Williamson would allow him to run the Wildcat offense.
“Put in the Wildcat, no doubt,” Swinney said.
During his short time at Duke, Williamson has been asked how a man of his size was never coaxed to put on shoulder pads. After all, his father, Lateef Williamson, dabbled in the sport during his college years.
“I didn’t get this size until my junior year of high school,” Zion Williamson said. “And my [high] school doesn’t have a football team.”
ESPN also related a snippet about how some college football coaches still pursued him. When asked by LSU head coach Ed Orgeron to uncover the best athletes in the United States, tight ends coach Eric Mateos stumbled onto Williamson.
“I thought, ‘Hell, why not, he’s probably the best damn tight end to ever live,'” Mateos told ESPN.
The next Gronk. We’ll never know, will we?
Now back to James. Since he was in the general area – Philadelphia – he jumped on a flight to Duke’s game last Saturday at the University of Virginia, a match-up of the nation’s No. 2 team and No. 3 team. His agent Rich Paul and teammates Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Rajon Rondo tagged along.
“It was a game between the [top] teams in the country,” James said. “Coach K [Krzyzewski] is my guy. And the flight was 35 minutes. So, it was easy. It was easy to be able to do it. It was my first time seeing Duke play, I think, in my life. I want to go to Cameron [Indoor Stadium] someday, too, though.”
Williamson complied with 18 points in an 81-71 win for the Blue Devils.
“I can relate [to Williamson] in a sense of he’s been covered [by the media] since he was in high school and everybody is trying to compare him to the next this or the next that,” James said. But the best thing I’ve noticed is he seems like a good kid. He seems like he’s got his head on straight.”
Williamson followed up that performance by scoring 27 points with 12 rebounds and three steals during Tuesday’s remarkable come-from-behind win over Louisville. Duke hosts NC State on Saturday.
If all of that isn’t enough to convince you Williamson is destined for stardom, there is this: Early this season, Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr watched the Blue Devils play on television. The next day, the team’s media asked him about him.
“I saw some kid on Duke last night who was pretty impressive,” Kerr said. “Oh my goodness. I probably can’t say anything more or mention his name … The one who is 285. LeBron, I thought that was a one shot deal, but apparently the next guy’s coming.”
Perhaps Williamson is that good. Perhaps it’s not just all hype. We hesitate to say it, so we’ll leave it to former NBA guard Stephon Marbury who in September said what some are already thinking.
“Zion is going to destroy the whole planet,” Marbury said. “Zion is way better than LeBron, it’s not even close … He don’t have to touch a basketball and he’s better than LeBron James. I said that.”