Wednesday night in Cameron Indoor Stadium, people literally paid thousands of dollars to watch some of the best college athletes play in one of sports’ biggest rivalries. Everyone wanted to see the phenom kid live in action. Zion Williamson had been covered on all media outlets essentially everyday since his arrival at Duke, and his highlight dunks just kept feeding us; we wanted more.
Wednesday’s matchup between Duke and North Carolina, however, turned out differently than all had anticipated. Nearly thirty seconds in, Zion literally blew out of his shoe and had fallen to the ground grasping his leg. He walked out of the court on his own, shoe in hand, and never saw the court for the rest of the night. This was just a reminder of how delicate a good thing can truly be.
Zion is the clear consensus top pick in the upcoming NBA draft. There’s little to no doubt about how unique of a player he is. His combination of size and athleticism is just something we’ve never really seen before. He will be an instant game-changer for any team that drafts him.
Maybe his biggest impact is not when he’s on the floor, but when he’s on the bench (or the locker room, in this case). Wednesday against North Carolina, Duke just looked lost. They struggled on both ends of the floor, and they never were really into the game. Sure, maybe players’ minds weren’t in it seeing their star player go down, but there is no doubt that their game plan changes when Zion isn’t present.
So what do we make of this? From reports, it sounds like Zion only suffered a mild knee sprain, which will only hold him from competition for a few weeks. However, if something a little more serious were to happen to him while playing at Duke, what would his future hold for him then?
Let’s face it: Zion has nothing else left to prove. He’s showcased his talents enough for us to know that he will be a top pick in this upcoming draft. Why risk millions of dollars to play at the collegiate level where he’s earning zero dollars (paying the players is a separate argument, so I’ll try to steer away from that)?
Some scouts will question his competitive drive if he does decide to sit. However, if you have the number one pick in the draft, are you really not going to pick this once-in-a-generation talent due to the fact that he sat out nearly half the season? I think not.
For the sake of his future and health, Zion should sit out the rest of his collegiate career. We’ve seen it before with high-level athletes participating in collegiate competitions and injuring themselves. Guys like Jaylon Smith and Jake Butt injured themselves in their respective bowl games, which hurt their draft stock and cost them millions of dollars. Sure, football is a lot more physical and players more prone to injuries than basketball, but the risk still isn’t worth it (Spencer Dinwiddie also suffered an injury in college which caused him to fall in the draft).
It’s been proposed to the league shortly after Zion’s injury that they rethink the idea letting players straight out of high school apply to play in the NBA. Now, I don’t necessarily know how I feel about the idea, but it would help players like Zion avoid risking injury in college and be able to move straight to the NBA. Some players do need development, and college is perfect for that.
If they do let players straight from high school play in the NBA, I’m sure we will see our share of players that could have used a year or two in college to develop against inferior talent before jumping to the big leagues (hello Kwame Brown?). I think letting players out of high school participate in the draft combine is a perfect way for them to gauge their abilities and get an idea on where they stand and if they think they could use a year or two in college.
The basketball fan in me really wants to see Zion keep playing. He’s great for college basketball, and is a human highlight reel. However, for his sake, I really think he should sit this one out. He has nothing left to prove, and only risks his future by playing.