By Nancy Armour |
Zion Williamson doesn’t belong in college.
With every game he plays, every opponent he dismantles, every did-you-see-THAT highlight he produces, the Duke freshman shows why the NBA needs to scrap its ridiculous “one-and-done” rule. Three games into his college career, it’s clear Williamson is more ready for the NBA than some of the guys already there.
Look, going straight to the NBA from high school isn’t right for every player. In fact, it’s probably not the right move for most.
As dominant as they were in high school or on the AAU circuit, the NBA is a different world and the year or two players spend in college – maybe even three or four – could make the difference between having a long, successful career and joining the list of phenom flameouts. Some need the coaching and competition they’ll get in college, while others need to get stronger.
But there are some players with the maturity, on the court and off, to go directly to the NBA, and the league’s insistence on a one-year moratorium to their entry hasn’t done anyone any good. Not a league whose popularity revolves around transcendent players. Not a college game where the competition is so wildly lopsided.
And not a player like Williamson, who might be the guy to carry the NBA in the post-LeBron world.
In his first three games at Duke, Williamson is averaging a double-double with 25.3 points and 10.7 rebounds, and he’s shooting 82%. Yes, you read that right. Williamson is shooting 82% from the floor.
He’s doing this despite limited playing time. Against Eastern Michigan on Wednesday night, he scored 21 points, grabbed nine rebounds and had a jaw-dropping dunk in all of 21 minutes.
Against then-No. 2 Kentucky last week, he was on the floor for just 23 minutes yet scored 28 on 11-of-13 shooting and had seven rebounds.
“Oh, he was good today. Whoo,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said after the game, a 118-84 win for Duke. “He got some shots off on big guys that were trying to block it. I thought that would bother him and it absolutely did not bother him today.
“We had a 7-footer in there and a 6-11 (guy), and he drove right at them,” Calipari added. “I’m like, holy cow.”
But Williamson is big, too. As in football player-size big. Whether he’s the 285 pounds he’s listed at or the 270 pounds coach Mike Krzyzewski said is his playing weight, it should come as no surprise that a former LSU assistant once offered Williamson a football scholarship.
What makes Williamson so dazzling, however, is that he doesn’t play like a traditional big man. Sure, he dunks and rebounds and protects the paint as if he’s a guard dog. But he has a sweet shooting stroke – you don’t get to 82 percent if all you’re doing is chucking it – and is deceptively agile.
“More so than how high he jumps is his incredible body control, especially on a fast break,” Krzyzewski said. “You would not think slither is a word you would ever use with him and basically he does that. Which is crazy.”
No, what’s crazy is that Williamson was barred from the NBA this year because of an arbitrary rule.
While perhaps well-intentioned at the time it was implemented, “one-and-done” no longer makes sense. Not when athletes in other sports are turning pro as teenagers, and entrepreneurs are dropping out of school to jump-start their careers.
If someone has the talent to make it in their chosen profession, the age at which they do it is irrelevant.
Besides, the NBA now has a developmental league that provides a fallback for guys who don’t want to go to school but aren’t quite ready for the league.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver acknowledged over the summer that “one and done” is soon to just be done, saying the league was “ready” to make a change. But it has to be negotiated with the union as part of the collective bargaining agreement, making it unlikely to happen before the 2021 draft. That’s just silly.
When someone makes the college game look like child’s play, as Williamson is doing, he belongs in the NBA. Now.
This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.