Eighty five percent. The Clemson Tigers were expected to land No. 2 overall recruit Zion Williamson of Spartanburg, South Carolina, with 85% certainty according to several recruiting outlets. But at 8:15 p.m. EST on January 20th, Williamson pulled a blue Duke University cap out from beneath the press stand and announced that he would be heading to Duke University next fall to become a part of “the brotherhood.”
By the time Zion Williamson revealed his college choice on Saturday, he’d already drawn hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube clips of his highlights, packed gyms across the Southeast with adoring fans, amassed more than one million Instagram followers, prompted Drake and Odell Beckham Jr. to wear his high school jersey and earned the description “once in a generation-type athlete” from Kevin Durant.
So who IS Zion Williamson, and why was he the talk of the Twittersphere on Saturday night? Williamson is probably the closest we’ve come to reaching LeBron James-level hype for a high school athlete. In the 36 total games he has played over the course of his current senior season, Williamson is averaging 36.8 pts, 13 rebs, 3.2 asts 2.5 blks, and 3 stls, while shooting 76% overall from the field.
Williamson is also a well-known dunker whose thunderous slams have owned Basketball Twitter and YouTube airwaves. Most of the defenders he faces in his South Carolina prep league are better off not challenging him at the rim, but if they do, there’s a considerable risk they’ll end up on the wrong end of a viral posterization. And Zion is just as spectacular when uncontested on a fast break, like when he pulled off this 360 windmill during a game last February.
Williamson’s game is built on power. While listed at small forward by multiple recruiting sites, he measured 6’5’’ (without shoes) and 272 pounds at a USA Basketball camp in October. He can rush past defenders with an explosive first step, and shrug off others while barreling toward the rim. Although he’s yet to develop into even a serviceable outside shooter, Williamson is an adept playmaker who can use his sheer strength and athleticism to pull down rebounds in traffic.
With Williamson in the fold, Duke’s 2018 recruiting class now includes the top three recruits in the RSCI: R.J. Barrett, a five-star small forward out of Montverde Academ (Fl.), Williamson, and Cameron Reddish, a five-star small forward out of Westtown (Pa.) School. The Blue Devils also signed the No. 1 point guard in the country last November in Tre Jones (No. 7 in the RSCI), the younger brother of Tyus Jones, who helped the program win its last of five national championships in 2015.
The addition of Williamson likely will make Duke the favorite to claim its sixth title next spring (if they don’t get it this year). Several Blue Devils starters like big men Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. and point guard Trevon Duval, could declare for the draft this offseason, and senior Grayson Allen is using his final season of eligibility. Shooting guard Gary Trent Jr. could also make the jump to the NBA but would most likely last until the late first, early second round. Head coach Mike Krzyzewski will reload with at minimum three potential one-and-done players who have the potential to be picked in the lottery in 2019.
Beyond its on-court impact, the Williamson commitment strengthens Duke’s case as the nation’s premier recruiter. The Blue Devils and Kentucky annually compete to sign the most coveted high schoolers in the country, and by reeling in the three top-ranked prospects in a single class, Duke has left no doubt which program has the upper hand in this cycle.