He had more than a million followers on Instagram before he ever stepped on campus as a student, he was the second-ranked basketball recruit in the 2018 high school class, and somehow, Zion Williamson has easily exceeded the hype.
Every game at Cameron Indoor Stadium this year has become a hype spectacle, a chance to witness something you’ve never seen before. Against Eastern Michigan, Williamson elevated for an electric alley-oop with his eyes even with the rim at the height of his leap. Against Clemson, he soared for a 360-degree turn in midair before another slam. Students and fans can count on a few special moments every time they see him in person, and he has opposing fans begging for flashy dunks in warmup lines before road games.
Williamson has also taken some by surprise by being an exceptional all-around player, the best and most efficient scoring threat on a team that may be a national title contender. He has a unique skillset that pundits and other coaches have scrambled to find reasonable comparisons for to no avail and is the clear frontrunner for every national player of the year award.
Perhaps the most important element of his aura is the joy he brings to the game and his infectious charisma around teammates, coaches, media members and random students tenting in K-Ville. He understands the attention he receives but deflects it to the rest of the team, and it shows. R.J. Barrett, the top-ranked recruit in the class who has often been upstaged by the spotlight on Williamson, still jumps for joy and jokes with Williamson in the locker room after every highlight-reel play. This will certainly be Williamson’s only year of entertaining the Cameron Crazies before he is eligible to jump to the NBA, but he is making it count and cementing himself as a Blue Devil for life.
Editor's note: This profile is part of our annual initiative called The Chron15. We are highlighting 15 people and groups who are defining what it means to be at Duke this year. Read about the project and more of our selections.