As much as it pains me to say, based on the latest swath of predictions from national recruiting analysts, I don’t think we’ll get to see Zion Williamson suit up in blue next year. The common sentiment I’ve seen get tossed around among fans about Zion’s decision seems to be utter disbelief that a player as elite as him would attend a school that hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2011.
But don’t look now: Clemson is actually playing really good basketball at the moment.
Currently ranked 25th in the nation, and set to move up after an overtime win against Louisville yesterday, the Tigers are poised to make their return to the Big Dance in 2018. Even with a relatively weak schedule thus far, a 14-1 record at this point in the season is impressive, and we’ll get to see just how effective Clemson can be when they face Miami at home and UNC in Chapel Hill before Zion’s January 20th commitment.
The Tigers have 5 players who average double figures in scoring, including a pair of redshirt junior guards, Shelton Mitchell and Marcquise Reed, who score 12.4 and 15.9 points per game, respectively. They also lead the team in assists, combining for 110 thus far this season.
Clemson will return 3 of their starting 5 next season, with Mitchell and Reed being joined by 6’9″, 237 lb. forward Elijah Thomas, who averages 11.6 points and 8.3 rebounds on the year. One slot that will be coming available is that of 6’8″ senior forward Donte Grantham, a position ripe for a flexible forward like Zion.
So while the idea of Williamson playing with the potential trio of Quade Green, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Immanuel Quickley is salivating for Kentucky fans, it shouldn’t be overlooked that Clemson actually has a stable core of experienced contributors who would likely be happy to have such an elite talent stay home and join the team. And while I’d like to think a decision this monumental wouldn’t be swayed by just a few games, Kentucky has lost 2 of their last 5, while Clemson has won 10 straight, and for all we know, Zion could be looking for any reason to stay in South Carolina.
Regardless of the current situation, Coach Cal is still Coach Cal, the de facto NCAA ambassador to the NBA, and you can never count him out. But should Zion decide on Clemson… well, I guess I can kind of understand.
I’ll still be livid.