At this point, aren’t we prepared to believe almost anything about Zion Williamson? Duke’s superstar freshman already appears to be defying various laws of physics right before our eyes, so if he says he gained 100 pounds in just two years, why doubt it?
In fact, Williamson might not have been exaggerating by much with that claim, made during an interview with GQ that was published Wednesday, before his No. 1 Blue Devils took on No. 8 North Carolina in a highly anticipated matchup.
“I didn’t pick up all this weight until junior year,” said Williamson, who sparked headlines in August when he weighed in for Duke at 285 pounds on a 6-7 frame. “Freshman year, I was small. I was 6-3, 175 — like, I was small. And over the course of about two years I picked up a hundred pounds.
“I mean, I wouldn’t look at myself and go, ‘Wow, I’m 250!’ I wouldn’t know I was 250 until I stepped on the scale,” he continued, “and then I’m like, ‘Oh. I’m 250? I don’t feel 250. I don’t feel slow.’ ”
While various media outlets ran with his 100-pounds-in-two-years claim, one clue that he may have been engaging in a bit of hyperbole came in the widely cited quote above, in which he noted weighing 175 as a freshman, then being taken aback at a subsequent weight of 250. That would still make for an unusually large increase — according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average male gains around 20 to 26 pounds between the ages of 14 and 16 — but it doesn’t quite get us to 100.
Accounts from Williamson’s junior year at a South Carolina high school, when he was already putting himself on the basketball world’s radar, indicated that he weighed considerably less than 250. A February 2017 report by the Raleigh News & Observer listed him at 6-7 and 230, while a newspaper even closer to home, the State, had him at the time at “a solid 220 pounds.”
Both newspapers did note that Williamson had undergone a growth spurt that transformed him from a 5-10 point guard in the eighth grade to a 6-6 forward as a sophomore. That helps explain his exceptional ballhandling skills and court vision for a player his size, but the same can be said of other hoops stars who experienced dramatic growth spurts (Anthony Davis being just one example).
What makes Williamson so unusual — mind-boggling might also be an apt term — is that his growth was as much outward as upward. In fact, 6-7 makes him somewhat undersized for a forward by the standards of the NBA, in which he is the favorite to arrive later this year as the No. 1 overall draft pick, but his weight is a complete outlier.
The only player in the NBA with a listed weight greater than the 285 pounds Duke assigned to Williamson is Philadelphia 76ers center Boban Marjanovic at 290. Factor in that Marjanovic is also listed at 7-3 and is, as one might expect, not much of a leaper, whereas Williamson set a Blue Devils record for vertical leap, and it starts to become apparent why the latter might have entered something akin to Chuck Norris territory.
Still, 100 pounds in two years? Williamson didn’t officially hit the 250 mark until his senior year, when he was listed at 255 pounds (per MaxPreps).
In fairness, that’s still a massive weight gain, as noted, and he did say “about two years,” which leaves some wiggle room. Then there’s another data point to consider, from an ESPN report in October 2017, just before that senior season.
In that report, which analyzed participants in the 2017 USA Basketball junior national team minicamp, Williamson was described as having a “272-pound frame,” at just 6-5, no less. ESPN declared that he looked “heavy and out of shape” and that “his conditioning looks poor,” issues that appear to have been resolved, to judge from his exploits at Duke.
If accurate, though, that weight could jibe reasonably well with Williamson’s stated timeline. If he finished his freshman season at around 175, then he would have weighed in at 272 just 2½ years later.
You know what? Let’s go ahead and give it to him. Anyway, the truly important thing isn’t exactly how fast Williamson gained 100 pounds, it’s how that addition of considerable bulk did seemingly nothing to limit his athleticism.
Williamson himself told GQ that “with all that weight just came more athleticism” and “finding myself able to do new things.” That’s not normally how it works, but it’s been clear for some time that we are not dealing with normal here.
“People always say you have to grow into your body, but for me, it wasn’t even growing into my body — the more weight came, it didn’t faze me. It made me faster, stronger,” he added. “It helped me become a more versatile player.”
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