Zion Williamson appears to have dodged a bullet. Duke’s freshman superstar was listed Thursday by the school as day-to-day with a mild sprain of his right knee, and now it appears to be just a question of when he returns to action for the Blue Devils. It won’t be on Saturday at Syracuse, however: Stadium’s Jeff Goodman reported Friday that Williamson won’t suit up against the Orange because of the injury.
To some, whether he should return at all is still very much an issue. Past comments on the topic by Williamson indicate that he will rejoin Duke’s lineup, but that hasn’t stopped plenty of media figures, as well as some NBA players, from offering their two cents on Thursday.
The debate over whether Williamson should react to his apparent good fortune by sitting out the rest of the season raged on, with some pointing to what they saw as the NCAA’s exploitation of elite athletes. Others asserted that Williamson came to Duke to play college ball at its highest level and that there is no reason he shouldn’t continue to do so, particularly with the Blue Devils well in contention for a national championship.
Warriors center and former Kentucky star DeMarcus Cousins let reporters know where he stood as soon as he was asked about it. Declaring that “college is bull----,” he said that his advice would be for Williamson to “do what’s best for you and your family” and get “ready for the next level.”
Referring to Williamson’s status as the presumptive No. 1 pick in June’s NBA draft, Cousins said, “Obviously, college, it does nothing for you at this point. … When I was at that age, you enjoy the moment, the experience and all that. But there’s so many risks involved to get to the ultimate goal, which is this level.”
A more recent Kentucky product, Knicks rookie Kevin Knox, said it would be a “tough decision” but seemed to lean toward thinking that Williamson should return. “It’s going to be hard for him not to just sit out the rest of the season and see his teammates go out there any play without him,” Knox said. “Everyone wants to play March Madness and get to the Final Four, experience that whole thing.”
“I would have gone [to the NBA] straight out of high school if the option was there,” declared Knox’s teammate Dennis Smith Jr., echoing comments made by the Nuggets’ Isaiah Thomas just after Williamson got hurt. “Let these kids go straight out of [high school]!!!” Thomas exclaimed on Twitter. “Too much on the line to be messing with college if you got a legit chance to turn pro.”
“Zion sit yo a-- down,” Thomas added at the time, “and we will be ready for you in the big boy league.”
ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith — who you’ll be shocked to learn offered his opinion — thought differently. He said there was “no way on Earth” a “healthy” Williamson should “quit in the middle of the season to preserve himself” for the draft.
Smith referred to remarks made by Williamson last month after Scottie Pippen, the former Bulls great and now an ESPN analyst, said the Duke star should “shut it down” until the draft. “I can’t just stop playing,” Williamson said then. “I’d be letting my teammates down, I’d be letting Coach [Mike Krzyzewski] down, I’d be letting a lot of people down.”
“If I wanted to sit out, I wouldn’t have went to college,” he continued. “I came to Duke to play.”
Jay Williams also played at Duke, starring for the Blue Devils for three seasons before becoming the No. 2 pick in the 2002 draft. Now also an ESPN analyst, he said Thursday that if he were Williamson’s agent or an adviser, he would counsel the player that “the right business move” would be to not return.
Pointing to Williamson’s highly unusual physique, with which he somehow maintains remarkable athleticism while carrying 285 pounds on a 6-foot-7 frame, Williams asserted that injury concerns in the eyes of NBA scouts “could jeopardize his draft status.” Williams added, “For a family like their family, you have a chance to make a lot of money. That’s a major, major decision, and you have to be able to compartmentalize your love for the game, as opposed to the long end of the game, business-wise.”
“Is it in Zion Williamson’s best interest, with what he’s been able to accomplish thus far in this season, to come back and to try to play off a knee injury?” Williams went on to ask. “I don’t think it is.”
FS1′s Skip Bayless agreed with that reasoning, saying, “I would advise [Williamson] to shut it down and wait for the draft.” Pointing to the potential for even a “minor knee strain” to turn into something more serious, Bayless said, “You’re set up to risk either limiting your NBA career or potentially wrecking your NBA career, for the sake of Duke University, which is paying you no more than room, board, and tuition.”
Seth Davis of CBS Sports and The Athletic declared that “shut it down” arguments should themselves be shut down. He noted that even if Williamson withdrew from Duke’s program, he’d still want to prepare for the draft with a personal trainer, which would involve many of the same movements as the one on which he was injured.
Even if Williamson got hurt again, Davis claimed, modern surgical and/or rehabilitative techniques would very likely allow him to regain his form and quite possibly maintain his status as the No. 1 pick. Davis also made the case that, by sitting out the rest of the season, Williamson would lose opportunities to improve as a player, experience some personal growth and just plain have “a blast.”
CBS Sports colleague Gary Parrish also argued that injury concerns were overblown.
“The shut-it-down crowd, what they seem to fail to realize is two things: One, there’s really no conceivable, normal basketball injury Zion Williamson could suffer that would actually cost him anything — he would still be the number one pick in the NBA draft with a torn [knee ligament],” Parrish said, “and secondly, to say you should shut it down once you’re worth millions of dollars is to suggest that the stuff Zion has spent the past four months doing isn’t worth anything — holds no value.
“Maybe he just likes playing basketball with his best friends, trying to win a national championship and establishing himself as a likely player of the year. That’s not worth nothing.”
To FS1′s Colin Cowherd on Thursday, Williamson was a “prodigy” who, in keeping with America’s “great” tradition of “giving opportunities” to people “who are special,” needed to be showcasing his skills on basketball’s grandest stage.
“The appetizer portion of this meal is over,” Cowherd said. “Let’s move to the entree: The NBA.”
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