NBA

NBA Draft 2019: Zion Williamson backed to become 'world's best'

By Sports Desk June 20, 2019

Zion Williamson can become the best player in the world and will relish the challenge of stepping up to the NBA, according to his old high-school coach.

The New Orleans Pelicans are expected to select 6ft 7in, 285-pound forward Williamson with the first overall pick on Thursday having won the NBA Draft Lottery last month.

Williamson, who left Duke after one year, is the most high-profile athlete ever to come through the American collegiate system, a player whose fame means he is recognisable by his first name alone.

The hype surrounding him - which has been fuelled by a series of monstrous dunks and highlight-reel plays - is akin to the excitement that surrounded LeBron James before he entered the NBA in 2003.

Except Williamson's story is playing out in the social-media age. The 18-year-old already has over three million Instagram followers and his presence on Duke's team meant the cheapest available tickets for their contest with North Carolina in February cost $2,500 (£1,924). 

He has come a long way from the 11-year-old that his future Spartanburg Day School coach Lee Sartor first encountered.

"He was learning the game, but you could just tell from a basketball-IQ perspective that he was just a little bit ahead of the other kids," Sartor told Omnisport.

"He was just an average height of a fifth grader, nothing overwhelming."

Sartor got a closer look when he worked Williamson out ahead of his ninth-grade year in South Carolina - and it was there that he first asked him to dunk.

"One drill was just a simple drill where he would attack the basket from the wing area going to the baseline," he explained.

"I remember asking him if he could dunk. He said, 'I think so'."

That feat became much easier when he grew to 6ft 3ins as a 15-year-old in ninth grade, when his physicality started to set him apart.

"He was always an engaged player, a perfectionist," Sartor added.

"He wanted to make sure he mastered a drill. He was driven, very self-motivated. Didn't mind working hard. He was the first person in the gym and the last to leave.

"As he got older and started getting taller and gaining mass, he was not only the best player from an IQ perspective but physically he was just dominating.

"I remember sending one of his dunks to ESPN and it ended up in the top three. Of course, with social media he started blowing up on the internet. We kept sending in his plays and they were posted on YouTube. It ballooned up to where he had millions of followers.

"Our games started selling out. I knew that Zion had arrived when we went to Illinois, which is several states over, to play in a Thanksgiving tournament and all of those games had sold out. Everybody just wanted to be able to witness his greatness."

Soon those attending NBA games will be able to witness Williamson too, with Sartor confident he can make the step up and transform the Pelicans' fortunes.

"We haven't seen the best that he has to offer yet because that moment hasn't happened yet," he added.

"I think the more he's challenged, the higher the level he will rise to.

"The first time I worked him out I told him he could be the best player in the country as a high-school player. If he continues to work hard and God blesses him without any injuries, I think he's got a chance to be the best player on the planet one day.

"There are players that come along once in a lifetime - a generational player, that transcend the game. And what he brings to the game is unique. I think Zion is that player for now."

Related items

  • Antetokounmpo takes swings with Yankees Antetokounmpo takes swings with Yankees

    After Giannis Antetokounmpo's 2018-19 season was capped off with a first – winning the MVP award – the Milwaukee Bucks star completed yet another first in a completely different sport.

    Antetokounmpo had never before touched a baseball, but that changed at Yankee Stadium on Monday.

    The forward towered over the Yankees' players as he got to see the field and also take a few swings in the batting cage.

    It took a few tries at first. Antetokounmpo swung and missed and barely made contact on his next few attempts, but then he finally hit the ball off the tee, which caused the players who were watching to cheer.

    Antetokounmpo, who was in town with his brothers promoting his new signature shoe, also watched the team's batting practice as New York prepared to host Tampa Bay.

  • Kevin Durant wanted to try something different – Myers addresses Warriors exit Kevin Durant wanted to try something different – Myers addresses Warriors exit

    Kevin Durant "wanted to try something different" after leaving for the Brooklyn Nets, according to Golden State Warriors president of basketball operations Bob Myers.

    Durant ended his three-year association with the Warriors after two NBA titles, signing with the Nets via free agency this offseason.

    Myers was asked about Durant's decision to leave the Bay Area when he met with reporters on Monday.

    "The one thing I'd share is, he just felt like, it was something inside of him, in his heart, that he wanted to try something different," Myers said.

    "Nothing wrong with that. I'm at peace about it, personally, I hope our fans are, too. He was one of the best athletes to come through our city, certainly this organisation."

    Durant won two titles and two Finals MVPs during his time with the Warriors. He averaged 26.0 points and 6.4 rebounds last season but ruptured his Achilles in Game 5 of the NBA Finals against the Toronto Raptors.

    The 10-time All-Star is expected to miss most, if not all, of 2019-20.

    "I just appreciate [him]," Myers said. "Growing up here, the fact that Kevin Durant wore a Warriors uniform for three years, to me, that's pretty cool, whether I'm here in the position I'm in, or just a Warriors fan. I think for him, it was just a new chapter."

    Warriors co-chairman and CEO Joe Lacob announced earlier this month the team were effectively retiring Durant's jersey.

    "Three years ago, we were thrilled with the arrival of Kevin Durant," Lacob said in a statement. "He provided our fans and franchise with numerous highlights during his stay here ... and carried himself with class and dignity both on and off the court.

    "As he starts a new chapter in his incredible career, we thank KD for all of his contributions, for being an integral part to one of the most prolific runs in NBA history and wish him well as he continues his Hall of Fame journey. As long as I am co-chairman of this team, no player will ever wear No. 35 for the Warriors again."

    Kyrie Irving left the Boston Celtics and joined Durant at the Nets this offseason, while the Warriors signed D'Angelo Russell.

  • Warriors didn't sign Russell to trade him – Myers Warriors didn't sign Russell to trade him – Myers

    The Golden State Warriors have no immediate plans to trade D'Angelo Russell.

    Warriors president Bob Myers on Monday addressed rumours that the team want to trade the 23-year-old guard in the near future.

    Russell, who was acquired in a sign-and-trade with the Brooklyn Nets, is expected to start in the Warriors' backcourt alongside Stephen Curry in 2019-20. Klay Thompson will likely miss most of the season recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) he suffered in Game 6 of the NBA Finals.

    There is speculation Russell will hit the trading block once Thompson is back in good shape, but Myers insists Golden State are focusing on the present.

    "We didn't sign him with the intention of just trading him," Myers told reporters. "We haven't even seen him play in our uniform yet and a lot of people have us already trading him.

    "That's not how we're viewing it. Let's just see what we have. Let's see what he is. Let's see how he fits. Part of our job in the front office and the coaching staff and organisation is how does it all work.

    "So much of our sport is what are you doing next. We've got to figure out what we're doing now. And that applies to a guy like D'Angelo in that there's speculation that we're moving him when we haven't even seen him play.

    "We're just happy that we got a young player that has a lot of upside in our opinion."

    Russell became an All-Star for the first time last season and averaged career highs in points (21.1) and assists (7.0) per game. He signed a four-year, $117million deal last month.

© 2018 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.