SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports’ Jeff Zillgitt tells us what’s in store for Zion Williamson as he makes his transition from college star to likely first pick in the NBA draft.
It’s on to the NBA for Zion Williamson.
After an accomplished freshman season at Duke in which he captivated college basketball and wowed NBA scouts with a rare combination of size, skill and athleticism, Williamson on Monday announced his decision to enter the NBA draft.
By all accounts, he is expected to go No. 1 overall on June 20.
Who will be the lucky team? That will be decided at the NBA lottery drawing on May 14. New York, Phoenix and Cleveland have the best odds, followed by Chicago and Atlanta.
Williamson re-energized college basketball from the start of the season through the Elite Eight and won several college player of the year awards, including the prestigious Naismith College Player of the Year and John R. Wooden Award.
He averaged 22.6 points and 8.9 rebounds and shot 68 percent from the field, including 74.7 percent inside the three-point line. He was not impossible to defend, but he was incredibly difficult to stop. Many teams learned the hard way, confounded by his ability to use power and finesse.
Williamson had 14 double-doubles in points-rebounds, including games of 35-10, 32-11, 31-11, 30-10, and in Duke’s regional final loss to Michigan State, he had 24 points, 14 rebounds, three steals and three blocks.
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“This kid is just one of a kind,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said during the NCAA tournament. “He’s certainly a special basketball player. But as a youngster, he has a maturity — it’s uncommon. It really is uncommon. And how humble he is and how fresh, exciting. It’s exquisite, just the best. And it’s been an honor for me to be with him on this journey.”
Williamson joins fellow freshmen teammates R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish, who declared earlier this month. Point guard Tre Jones will return for his sophomore season.
Beyond winning a national title, there is nothing left to prove for Williamson in college.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t room for growth. Williamson will need to work on his conditioning and don’t be surprised if he sheds pounds between now and the draft.
Williamson will also need to work on his outside shot, especially if he wants to step out and make NBA three-pointers.
But those are nothing that will dissuade teams from taking Williamson. All his other attributes, including his ability to pass, dribble and his unselfish play, make him a potential franchise-changing player.
There is no reason for Williamson to participate in all of the NBA draft combine activities in May, so his next public on-court performance might not be until the Las Vegas Summer League in July.
Beyond his on-court ability, he will enter the NBA as polished as possible from a PR and marketing standpoint. He is gracious in victory and defeat and is media savvy during interviews. His charisma, combined with an electric smile, will make him a endorsement sensation with shoe, apparel, sports drink and other companies.
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Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt