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  • Viral sensation Zion Williamson is much more than just his thunderous dunks. Here's what Duke is getting in its uber-talented freshman.
By Emily Caron
September 04, 2018

In the one-and-done era, college basketball fans have grown accustomed to having to get to know a slew of new, highly-touted names and faces each season, many of whom will spend just one year on campus before moving on to the NBA. Just look at the 2018 draft, where it took 10 picks before Mikal Bridges became the first non-freshman (or international) to be selected. Not all elite freshmen will pan out, but history dictates that many of them will help headline the sport for the next year—and, for some, maybe even beyond.

With that in mind, SI.com will be introducing you to the top incoming freshmen in college basketball and breaking down the impact those players could have this season. The rankings are according to RSCI Hoops, a composite that averages from 25 different expert top-100 lists. We move to the No. 4 overall recruit, Duke's Zion Williamson (You can view all of the profiles to date here).

What he means for Duke’s recruiting class

The No. 4 ranked recruit in 2018, Zion Williamson is the second of our four five-star, top-25 recruits for coach Mike Krzyzewski in Durham. The power forward comes in with point guard Tre Jones (No. 13 in the RSCI rankings), small forward R.J. Barrett (No. 1), shooting guard Cameron Reddish (No. 2), and four-star small forward Joey Baker (No. 37). The five top-50 recruits give the Blue Devils the top-ranked class of 2018. Williamson is incredibly talented and will likely be one of three lottery picks for Duke alongside Reddish and Barrett. He’s the top-ranked four in this year’s freshman class and will help build a tremendously skilled starting line for Coach K. Williamson will have even more opportunity to up his already-sky-high-NBA potential if he can maintain the dominance he displayed in high school at the collegiate level. ACC opponents will not allow his abilities to go entirely unchecked, but Williamson will be tough for even top-caliber teams to slow down. All eyes will be on Durham this fall thanks to these recruits.

How he fits

Zion Williamson is basically a bucket machine for the Blue Devils. Known for his viral monster dunks, expect highlight reel moments from this freshman from the second he steps on the court—but that’s not all you should expect from Duke’s newest phenom. Williamson is most dominant at the rim but has an ever-improving floater and can handle the ball well enough to give him point-forward potential. Despite the departure of all of last year’s Elite Eight starters in senior guard Grayson Allen, big men Wendell Carter Jr. and Marvin Bagley III and guards Gary Trent Jr. and Trevon Duval, Duke’s No. 1 ranked recruiting class should have no problem making up for the team’s losses. At 6’7” and 285-pounds, Williamson is an explosive and physical player in the paint and when defending both the perimeter and the post. He has a rare combination of agility and force, an utterly unique skillset that simultaneously makes him the most talked about freshman of 2018 and the most puzzling draft prospect of 2019. He’s fast, powerful and tremendously athletic compared to anyone on the floor, not just other big men. Williamson will readily replace production lost at the post, with fellow freshmen Reddish and Barrett immediately contributing at the two and the three, respectively, to replace Allen and Trent Jr. That leaves the point in the hands of Tyus Jones’s little brother, Tre, who will take over for the undrafted Duval. Jones will have Williamson to use in the paint and, when needed, from even further out. In the Blue Devils' summer games in Canada, Williamson averaged 29.7 points and 11.3 rebounds per game while shooting 64.5% from the field and making 3 of 9 attempts from three-point range. Williamson is as puzzling as LeBron James was back in 2003—a one-of-a-kind athlete with unprecedented potential and unmatched raw talent who, if he can translate his high school success to the NCAA, will be a definite one-and-done for Duke.

NBA
Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett Highlight Duke's Impressive Canada Tour

Importance to Duke's success/team outlook

Duke’s 2018–19 team is young. The Blue Devils lost all five of their 2017–18 starters and, although they have more incoming talent than any other team in the country, their inexperience could be an issue. The young team will face serious scrutiny and have a huge target on their backs from the start, meaning that they’ll need maturity and poise when playing. Without much remaining veteran leadership, Duke’s new floor general Tre Jones and Williamson will be looked to for much of that. Both are talented two-way players who show exceptional control over their game. With their leadership and the talent of Barrett and Reddish, Duke’s freshman faces will still make headlines all season and should see strong success in the ACC even in light of their youth.

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