In choosing his intro music for Countdown to Craziness, Zion Williamson was deliberate. At 6-foot-7, 285 pounds, the freshman isn’t the most fleet of foot, at least when it comes to dancing—instead, he chose to send a message.
The very first line of JAY-Z’s 2003 hit "Public Service Announcement" boomed throughout the arena: 'Allow me to reintroduce myself.'
“People think that I’m just a dunker,” Williamson said. “So, when he says allow me to reintroduce myself, I feel like I have to reintroduce myself to the world that I’m a basketball player—I’m not [just] a dunker.”
Of course, Williamson is known as a high-flyer. His senior season hoop mixtape has pulled in nearly two million views on YouTube, his Instagram now has 1.8 million followers and fans will have their eyes peeled during Duke’s layup lines each game—all because of Williamson’s dunking abilities.
So, it was only appropriate that when the Blue Devils kicked off their exhibition tour in Canada this summer, the superstar rookie came out and drilled three of his four 3-point attempts and dished out four assists to lead Duke in both categories. Williamson capped the trip with a 36-point, 13-rebound effort against McGill and he’s led the Blue Devils in scoring during both of their two preseason contests.
Head coach Mike Krzyzewski went so far as to call Williamson “the best athlete he’s ever coached” at ACC media day last week.
Very quickly, the well of Williamson superlatives is running dry.
“He never takes a play off,” Krzyzewski said of Williamson. “He’s in unbelievable shape. He’s probably about 270 [pounds], his lateral quickness is off the chart…. He’s got such a great attitude. He’s smart. There’s not a thing this kid is lacking. He’s already very good, but he’s going to be a special, special player his whole career, not just at Duke. He’s got it.
“You can’t say he’s like somebody—he’s not like anybody. He’s like Zion.”
Figuring out who Williamson is, though, is something that remains to be seen.
For certain, he’s going to score—often in thunderous, powerful fashion from well above the rim. But it isn’t always going to be like high school where Williamson often bullied his way to success on both ends of the floor. The Spartanburg, S.C. native is just one piece of a talented group that will often need to him to serve as a distributor.
At a distance, that might seem a tough task for Williamson. The former No. 2 recruit is often the center of attention, and anywhere else, Williamson would be far and away the focal point of the offense.
And yet, he’s quite fine with being that passer.
“He can really distribute the ball, and every time the ball gets into his hands, he's a really smart player,” said junior Jack White when asked what’s impressed him most about Williamson. “He always seems to make the right play. He makes his teammates better. He's a great guy off the floor to be around, great locker room guy. You know, I can't speak highly enough of him.”
When Duke’s roster went live online just before the team’s trip to Canada, the internet was abuzz. Williamson, at 285 pounds, already weighed more than every player currently in the NBA other than Los Angeles Clippers center Boban Marjanovic, who measures in at 7-foot-3 and 290 pounds.
Krzyzewski did his best to quell any concerns that Williamson might be overweight, but it wasn’t until the Blue Devils hit the court that fans and reporters could see why 285 was just a number.
The size is something that Williamson’s had to figure out ever since his junior year of high school, and it seems like the freshman more than has things together—at Countdown to Craziness last month, Williamson picked up the Iron Devil award given to Duke’s winner of the offseason strength and conditioning program.
“When I grew in size and grew in height, I found myself being able to do things that I couldn’t do before,” Williamson said. “I loved to attack the basket before, but I had to do certain finishes, so my shot wouldn’t get blocked. Now, I try to emulate [Michael] Jordan and LeBron [James] with how their body control is with their strength and their athleticism and how they’re able to hang in the air.”
For as intense as Williamson often looks on the court, he’s got a different side when he and his teammates are around one another away from Cameron Indoor.
“He’s a goofball,” junior Javin DeLaurier said of Williamson’s persona. “He’s super humble, he’s hilarious, and I just enjoy hanging out with him. You’d never know that Zion Williamson has 1.7 million followers on Instagram if you were just talking to him because he’s just a good guy.”
At the end of the day, though, Williamson doesn’t need the superlatives or the praise or the celebrity.
He’s a man on a mission and will be the focal point of a team that expects a great deal from its young, but supremely talented, star.
“Honestly, I don’t want to have a description,” Williamson said. “You can’t describe my game because I can do so many different things for my size, my weight. It’s powerful but smooth but I’m also very fast…. I don’t think you can describe it.”
Editor's note: This article is one of many in The Chronicle's men's basketball season preview. Find the rest here.
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A junior from just outside Philadelphia, Mitchell is probably reminding you how the Eagles won the Super Bowl this year and that the Phillies are definitely on the rebound. Outside of The Chronicle, he majors in Economics, minors in Statistics and is working toward the PJMS certificate, in addition to playing trombone in the Duke University Marching Band. And if you're getting him a sandwich with beef and cheese outside the state of Pennsylvania, you best not call it a "Philly cheesesteak."