By 90Min
November 26, 2018

Born just five days apart at the turn of this century, it can't have taken too long for the families of Vinicius Jr and Zion Williamson to realise their newest relative was different. With generational talents like these, the supreme talent at the core of their beings usually surfaces early on. 

It would've had to, considering the astronomical progress they've made since those two days in July 2000. As legend goes, the former was shopped around the football scene when he was just five years old, eventually settling at Escolinha Fla Sao Goncalo, a Flamengo-affiliated school.

At that same age, Zion told his stepdad, himself a former point guard at the prestigious Clemson College, that he wanted to play College basketball. By 14, he had received his first scholarship offer to do so.

Andre Coelho/GettyImages

For his part, the Brazilian's gifts have taken him on a 5,046 mile journey from the streets of Sao Goncalo in Rio de Janeiro to the Santiago Bernabeu, via the Maracana. 

Williamson's journey was a little more modest in mileage - the 200 mile drive from Spartanburg, South Carolina, where he was born and went to high school, to Duke University takes just three hours, and that's allowing for traffic.

And that's not the only difference between the pair. Indeed, there is far more differentiation than there is similitude, but one for the second column would be that they both seem destined to succeed. They always had. And, at just 18, it feels like we've had them in our lives for far longer than that age suggests. 

And that's mainly because we have. Obviously to get so far so young, you are going to have to have been noticed as a true youngster. But these two weren't just noticed by scouts. They were noticed by the world, for better or worse, thanks to the numerous highlights compilations that were made of them upon their first steps up the ladder. 

Evidently playing below their pay grade throughout their youth, they dazzled and destroyed opponents often far older than them.

Image by Wilfred Laurence

This - obviously, because this is how we deal with young players in sports - led to lofty comparisons with ghosts of sport's past and present.

For Zion, it was mostly Larry Johnson, Blake Griffin...oh and, LeBron James. If you haven't guessed it already, it was Neymar for Vinicius, with some cursory Rivaldo shouts sprinkled in for good measure.

But what's pretty remarkable is how fair these correlations have become. No one has ever lit up the High School game like Zion, not even LeBron, and watching Vinicius slaloming through any and all defences as a barely-post-pubescent, it's impossible not to think of Neymar. 

And, as you would expect with these two, their latest steps up the ladder have been no less impressive. For Vinicius this progress has come as an alleged surprise, though no one else seems to share this feeling.

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Speaking to Globoesporte, as quoted by Marca, the teenager recently admitted: "Neither I, nor Real Madrid's staff, or my family imagined this beginning. 

"We went to Spain to adapt in this first year, but we got it very fast. I am happy to be starting and taking advantage of the opportunities that Real Madrid has given me.

"In Castilla they helped me a lot to make the jump and under [Santiago] Solari I have always been summoned and I am getting more minutes."

The forward agreed to leave Flamengo for Real in a €45m deal just 10 days after making his debut for the first team in 2017, but his age meant he was required to stay in Rio for a further year to develop.

Image by Wilfred Laurence

After an initial grace period with Real Madrid B, and the sacking of Julen Lopetegui (which many think was accelerated because of his ignorance of Vinicius), the youngster has been allowed to make his mark in the first team. Since his induction, he has picked up one goal and three assists in six appearances. 

Now, the constraints put on youth talents in America, forcing them to enter the NBA through an annual draft from the Collegiate game, mean that the two are not currently on equal footing on this career ladder.

But they're not as far apart as you might think. Because, at Duke, Zion is part of the latest great super team to grace the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), and has a one-way freight train ticket to the number one spot in the draft.

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It's not surprising, when observing Williamson in full flight, that amidst his many scholarship options prior to choosing Duke was an offer to play American Football at Louisiana State University.

In fact, Eric Mateos, who was the tight ends coach at LSU, and the man who extended the proposition, has since, as quoted by ESPN, declared: "I thought, hell, why not, he's probably the best damn tight end to ever live."

Obviously, there's no doubting Zion's inimitable ability to harness his physicality for earth-shattering dunks, and the hand-eye coordination required to collect alley-oops and the like. But the Power Forward has also sought to, if not distance himself from, then add to that persona. Because the same YouTube clips that precipitated his rise have also pigeon-holed him.

He is far more defter than a mere dunk machine, and his early days under the eponymous Coach K in North Carolina have shown this. Through six games, he has averaged 20.7 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.2 assists, and led his side to an admirable 5-1 in record. 

In Lauryn Hill's emotionally charged, certified banger 'To Zion' from the 'Miseducation of Lauryn Hill' album, the singer states: "Now let me pray to keep you from, The perils that will surely come, See life for you my prince has just begun." 

Of course, the road to sporting stardom is never sure. It is filled with hurdles to overcome, pot-holes to maneuver, and Zion and Vinicius have a long way to yet cover on this path. Thus, those words are clearly applicable to both. But so are the lines from a little further along: "See I know that a gift so great, is only one God could create, and I'm reminded every time I see your face."

Perhaps it's time to include the Brazilian's name in the song. It seems only fair.

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