Zion Williamson is a very, very good high school basketball player. The 6’6″ power forward with a 272-lb frame was the highest-ranked player who had yet to commit to a school; for most colleges, he’d be the clear crown in their 2018 recruiting class.
It’s not hard to see why, either; he’s basically Shawn Kemp 2.0:
Tonight he announced his college choice, from a group of finalists that included Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, and Kansas, the four schools that would be fairly unquestioned #1 seeds if you were to bracket a tournament for overall college basketball program:
Of course it was Duke! The thing is, Duke landing Williamson isn’t just even necessarily their biggest get of the class:
Duke could probably win 15 games in the NBA next season. pic.twitter.com/0lJ74n0rT6
— Matt Clapp (@Matt2Clapp) January 21, 2018
Not pictured: Duke’s fourth commit, Tre Jones, the #1 rated point guard and #10 rated player overall via ESPN. (If you’re wondering whether this is just ESPN’s recruiting services being a bit wonky, not an invalid thought, there’s this: the 247 composite rankings have Barrett, Reddish, and Williamson 1/2/3 as well, with Jones at #8. So, yeah.)
Duke is hated, and often for good reason; most recently we’ve had Grayson Allen’s on-court violence to focus on. Plus, they just win a hell of a lot of games, on top of winning five national championships in a 27-year span, with a team that could challenge for another title this spring. Seeing them reload like this might be frustrating on the surface, especially if you’re a fan of a school that can’t hope to compete when it comes to recruiting. (And few schools can.)
But it’s a fascinating look at how the pendulum has swung for college basketball; five or six years ago, these players might have all gone to Kentucky. For a long time, Coach K resisted chasing one-and-done players, or at least resisted chasing multiple one-and-done players within the same class. Those players, seeking the best one-year NBA prep environment, gravitated towards John Calipari and Kentucky, resulting in a few dominant teams and one national championship.
Once Coach K started delving further into the pool, though, the playing field shifted; perhaps thanks to his work with NBA players for USA Basketball, Krzyzewski managed take over the mantle from Calipari as the place to go to get paid. Things are paying off now for Duke, although it’s interesting to see how a practice Calipari pioneered and was maligned for is being employed to much less criticism in Durham. That speaks to how those coaches are perceived by the media more than anything.
The main thing, though, is that Duke is probably going to be a ton of fun to watch next year; not all of their current team will leave, of course, and the holdovers will get to play with what looks like an outstanding incoming class of freshmen. And, again, Zion Williamson is going to dunk all over people. They might be fun to hate, but they’ll probably be nearly as fun to watch.