‘He’s not like anybody:’ Duke’s Williamson is one-of-a-kind

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 20, 2018

By Joedy McCreary

AP Sports Writer

DURHAM (AP) — Zion Williamson seems comfortable as the star of the show at No. 2 Duke.

That’s not easy at a program that has taken an ensemble approach to its collection of likely one-and-done freshmen. But with his mix of high-flying acrobatics on the court and his charismatic personality off it, Williamson has emerged as the natural face of the Blue Devils (10-1) — and maybe as college basketball as a whole.

“It’s like a movie,” Williamson said. “You say you want to be a part of it, but when you’re actually here, it’s a movie. Ups and downs. Hard practices. Hard games. But for me, somebody like me, I always want to have fun, no matter what I’m doing, so it’s been like a movie for me.”

Put simply, there’s nobody else like him in the sport.

With a rare blend of physical size and freakish athletic ability, Williamson has helped turn those otherwise humdrum home-court routs of mid-major schools into must-see events with moves he jokingly described as “poetry in motion.”

“For somebody like me, coming down on a fast break, an in-and-out crossover, and that moment where I jump and glide to the rim and lay it in, for me, it’s like poetry in motion,” he said. “I feel like I was in slow motion, and it’s just poetry.”

At 6-foot-7 and 285 pounds, he’s larger than both starting defensive ends on the Blue Devils’ football team — yet he also set a Duke record over the summer with a 45-inch vertical leap. He’s the Atlantic Coast Conference’s second-leading scorer at 20.4 points per game, ranks fourth with a 9.0 rebounding average and is blocking two shots per game heading into Thursday night’s game against No. 12 Texas Tech (10-0) at Madison Square Garden.

Willaimson has drawn comparisons to Charles Barkley — who played at an inch shorter and some 30 pounds lighter — both for his style of play and for his playful personality.

But according to Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski, those comparisons are pointless.

“You can’t say he’s like somebody,” Krzyzewski said. “He’s not like anybody. He’s like Zion.”

That became clear from his first college game, when he scored 28 points in a 34-point rout of then-No. 2 Kentucky. In seemingly every game since, the highlight package has included at least one can’t-miss play from Williamson.

There was his breakaway windmill dunk against Indiana that was reminiscent of Dominique Wilkins in his prime. There was the alley-oop lob from Cameron Reddish that seemed headed for the pep band until he skied for it — with both his eyes and armpits above the rim — and slammed it home against Eastern Michigan.

And when he came down on a 2-on-1 break against Hartford, everyone expected another Williamson dunk — so he bounced an alley-oop pass off the backboard to RJ Barrett, who finished with the slam.

Williamson said his favorite dunk so far was the lob from Reddish. And he played coy when asked how many more dunks he still has in his repertoire, saying there are more he wants to show off — but only at the proper times, of course.

“It’s a long season, so you’ve got to break them off, one by one,” he quipped.

Yet his teammates say their favorite Williamson moments don’t always show up in the highlights.

“He’s really such a complete basketball player,” junior forward Javin DeLaurier said. “That gets lost in his aerial acrobatics. You see him wind-milling on ESPN and they’re not going to show him diving for loose balls and crashing offensive boards every time, but the rest of us do, and we appreciate it.”