Get Familiar with Duke Freshman Zion Williamson Now, Because He's Going to Be Around Forever
If you’ve only heard a single word about US college basketball this year, there is no doubt that word is "Zion." That would be Duke freshman Zion Williamson, who heads to the NCAA Men’s Tournament Sweet Sixteen on Friday, having already put together one of the most talked-about seasons in the sport’s history. If you haven’t paid attention to the buzz around this young phenom, then you need to catch up now, because you're gonna be hearing about him, well, forever.
At 6'7", 285 pounds, Williamson has a body type that is better described as “Autobot” than “freshman.” To put his size in perspective, he would currently be the second-heaviest player in the NBA (behind the Sixers' Boban Marjanovi?), while measuring the average league height. But what makes him truly special are his physical abilities given all that mass.
This past summer, Zion shattered the Duke record for vertical leap, jumping 45" according to Coach Mike Krzyzewski. That puts him in the top 10 of NBA players ever. And his balletic footwork enables him to transform into a violent tornado in the paint, eluding the fleet of defenders that every team attempts to send his way.
In spite of all his gifts, the conventional thinking before the season started was that his teammate, RJ Barrett, would go ahead of him in this summer’s NBA draft. In spite of all the clips of Zion soaring through high school gyms, no one knew how he’d fare against
During Duke’s first game of the season against
According to Sports Reference, the greatest season on record by a college player for PER (“player efficiency rating,” a stat designed to measure players’ per-minute performance) is 36.93. No NBA player has ever hit 32. Zion’s PER this season was 41.6.
Williamson’s game can’t be accurately described in numbers, though, because what makes it transcendent is his ferocity, his unbridled joy for the game. Any set of Zion highlights has to start with a dunk.
Yes, that’s an in-game 360° dunk in transition off his own steal. But no one could have guessed that his passing would be as impressive. This needle-threading gem is thrown so hard that it looks like the footage momentarily fast-forwards.
And there is not a spot on the court where opposing players are safe from the threat of him chucking their shots into the stands.
INSANE ???? Look where Zion took off from for that block. Dude is a freak of nature. pic.twitter.com/44zvnwdyUr— Ball Don't Stop (@balldontstop) February 10, 2019
Watching how well he moves, you might forget just how strong Zion is. That
Zion has turned college hoops into NBA Jam live-action role play. But this is just the beginning.
Williamson is the most certain #1 pick since Anthony Davis in 2012 or LeBron James in 2003. The style of play has changed significantly in the league over the last few years, and Zion is perfectly suited for the future, when every player on the court will be expected to switch and defend every other player, shoot threes, and handle the basketball.
Nitpickers will point out that Zion still needs to improve his jump shot and free throw percentage. Fine. He’s 18 years old and appears to have the drive of a fighter jet.
Beyond the games he’s going to win, his public appeal might take him even further. Unlike most college players headed to the pros, complete with the charisma of a plate of wet pancakes, Zion was born for the camera. Armed with a telegenic smile and a prodigious comfort talking on TV, you can expect to see the South Carolina native in more commercials than Flo from Progressive. As if he needed any help, that Nike sneaker he shredded is going to help him land the largest shoe contract of all time.
Michael Jordan originated the idea of the NBA superstar as a brand, and LeBron expanded the concept, producing so many film and TV projects that there’s no mystery why he chose to go play in Los Angeles. Zion will be their heir apparent, the social media era’s brand champion. With 2.9 million Instagram followers, he’s off to a good start.
And while it’s ridiculous to speculate on what any teenager will be doing in a couple of decades, there is no limit on projecting the scope of Zion’s career even after he’s done playing. Other commanding stars like Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley have paved a lucrative path forward with sponsorships and commentating, both of which will be available to him, among all the other star-powered professions that emerge in the new media landscape.
Whatever opportunities he chooses along the way, rest assured, Zion is not going anywhere for a long time. Lucky us.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.com. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.