Zion Williamson, the Duke freshman phenom, has completed numerous feats of unprecedented athleticism. On Wednesday night, he committed another act that has never been seen before, but this time it was a little different than one of his 360 windmills. We are used to seeing his high flying dunks and soaring blocks. But the incredible freshman only got a 33 second taste of his first, and maybe only Duke-UNC game, the greatest rivalry in all of college basketball. It was his first touches, with everyone on the edge of their seats. Williamson had the ball at just about the free throw line. He does an ordinary pivot on his left to drive down the left side of the lane, but instead of the play going as planned, his left foot blew through his Nike PG 2.5 shoes. Zion proceeded to lose the ball, fall down awkwardly, and stayed on the floor in visible pain, holding the outside of his right knee. The Cameron Indoor Stadium, home of the Duke Blue Devils went silent with worry. Zion would exit the game, not return, and spark conversations all throughout the Basketball world.
1. Zion’s absence effect on the Blue Devils:
The sloppy play of Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s side proved how vital Williamson is. Freshmen teammates RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish both said they were pretty shocked and that Zion’s injury “held them back a bit”. Both physically and emotionally, the Blue Devils are in dire need of their star. The stats speak for themselves. Without the presence of Williamson, the Tar Heels had a field day in the paint en route to their 88-72 win. 62 of the 88 NC points came in the Zion-less paint, on 74% shooting from that same area. Luke Maye-who was expected to be guarded by primarily Zion-led the charge dropping 30 points and tacking on 15 rebounds. On the offensive side of the ball, with no interior pressure due to the absence of Zion, the Blue Devils had to rely on the three point shot, which proved unsuccessful. The Devils went 8-39 from three and shot a meere 34.7% throughout the game. Zion Williamson’s two-way play proved to be critical for the success of the number one ranked Blue Devils. Zion was luckily only diagnosed with a Grade 1 knee sprain and is currently listed as day-to day, but the idea of having the high flyer sit out the rest of the season in preparation for the draft has been a hot topic of conversation in the past week.
2. Out for Season?
In all Mock Drafts put out by NBA-related sources, Zion has been top two in every one of them. For this reason, the idea of Zion sitting out for the rest of his collegiate career in preparation for the 2019 NBA draft is being considered. Denver Nuggets guard Isaiah Thomas had some advice for Williamson, “One injury can change somebody career, Zion [sit down]… we will be ready for you in the big boy league,”. Various other players are telling Zion to sit out the rest of the year and not risk a more significant injury, which could, in the long run, cost him millions. However, Coach K has told ESPN that Zion is anxious to return, hoping to end all the talk of losing the 18-year-old for the rest of the season. In the locker room on Thursday after the loss, players all said Williamson was in good spirits, and they were very hopeful that Zion would soon return. All in all, it looks like the Wooden Award Candidate is soon to return to the court amongst his Blue Devil brothers, despite the controversy surrounding his future.
3. Impact on the NCAA and NBA:
Zion’s injury reignited two often-debated topics: the amount of money NCAA Basketball makes while none of it goes to the players, and the NBA draft eligibility age at 19 forces players to go to college for at least a year. The highest priced ticket sold for the Duke-UNC rivalry game went for $10,682 and not a dime went to the players. Many NBA stars, including Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell are calling for change. Mitchell tweeted after Zion’s injury, “Again let’s remember all the money that went into this game… and these players get none of it… and now Zion gets hurt… something has to change, NCAA,”. As of now, the money side of college basketball has not changed, but the freak injury to Zion Williamson brought attention to the age aspect in regards to the draft, and the NBA reacted. In 2005, the NBA and its Player’s Union made an agreement that high schoolers would be deemed ineligible for the draft and would have to be at least 19 to declare. That forced star high school standouts like Zion to go to college, risking injury and potentially losing out on millions. However, this past Thursday, the NBA and its Player’s Union made it legal for high schoolers to declare and bypass college. Even though players who choose to go to college will still not be getting paid, at least upcoming standout players will be able to go straight to the “big boy” league.