Zion Williamson is headed to Duke. In a news conference at his high school on Saturday, the highest-ranked undecided high school senior revealed that he has verbally committed to the Blue Devils, choosing them over finalists Clemson, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina and South Carolina. The announcement comes after he took official visits to Duke, North Carolina, Kansas and Kentucky, in addition to unofficial visits to in-state schools South Carolina and Clemson.
Williamson, a five-star forward in the class of 2018, recently returned to the court for Spartanburg Day (S.C.) School after an extended absence because of a foot injury. He participated in a prestigious tournament pitting teams from around the country, the Hoophall Classic, in Springfield, Mass., last weekend. In a game televised on ESPN against the high school team the Ball brothers played for (Chino Hills), Williamson put up 36 points.
The decision surprised most familiar with Williamson’s recruitment. A much less heralded program, Clemson, was viewed as the favorite in the leadup to the announcement.
Williamson is not regarded as the best prospect in the country; he checks in at No. 2, behind Duke small forward commit R.J. Barrett, in the Recruiting Services Consensus Index (RSCI), a composite that incorporates data from multiple services. But Williamson has a strong case for being the most famous player who currently suits up for an American high school, particularly given LaMelo Ball’s recent move to a Lithuanian pro team.
By the time Zion Williamson revealed his college choice on Saturday, he’d already drawn hundreds of thousand of views on YouTube clips of his highlights, packed gyms across the Southeast with adoring fans, amassed more than one million Instagram followers, prompted Drake and Odell Beckham Jr. to wear his high school jersey and earned the description “once in a generation-type athlete” from Kevin Durant.
Williamson is a legendary dunker whose jams offer a mesmerizing blend of power and grace. Most of the defenders he faces in his South Carolina prep league are better off not challenging him at the rim, but if they do, there’s a considerable risk they’ll end up on the wrong end of a viral posterization. And Zion is just as spectacular when uncontested on a fast break, like when he pulled off this 360 windmill during a game last February.
Williamson’s game is built on power. While listed at small forward by multiple recruiting sites, he measured 6’5’’ (without shoes) and 272 pounds at a USA Basketball camp in October. He can rush past defenders with an explosive first step, and shrug off others while barreling toward the rim. Although he’s yet to develop into a high-level outside shooter, Williamson is an adept playmaker who can use his power to pull down rebounds in traffic.
With Williamson in the fold, Duke’s 2018 recruiting class now includes the top three recruits in the RSCI: Barrett, Williamson and Cameron Reddish, a five-star small forward out of Westtown (Pa.) School. The Blue Devils also signed the No. 1 point guard in the country last November in Tre Jones (No. 7 in the RSCI), the younger brother of Tyus Jones, who helped the program win its last of five national championships in 2015.
The addition of Williamson likely will make Duke the favorite to claim its sixth next spring. Several Blue Devils starters, including big men Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. and point guard Trevon Duval, could declare for the draft this offseason, and senior Grayson Allen is using his final season of eligibility. Head coach Mike Krzyzewski will reload with at minimum three potential one-and-done players who have the potential to be picked in the lottery in 2019.
Beyond its on-court impact, the Williamson commitment strengthens Duke’s case as the nation’s premier recruiter. The Blue Devils and Kentucky annually compete to sign the most coveted high schoolers in the country, and by reeling in the three top-ranked prospects in a single class, Duke has left no doubt which program has the upper hand in this cycle.