Last week, five-star sensation Zion Williamson announced he would be making a decision on January 20, setting the basketball recruiting world on fire.
This summer, Williamson told KSR he wanted to team up with Immanuel Quickley in college, and rumors of Kentucky being the heavy favorite spread rapidly. The Wildcats eventually received commitments from Quickley, Keldon Johnson, and Tyler Herro, and all three of them have told reporters they continue to reach out to Williamson in an attempt to reel him in. He played along, saying he would love to play with each of them.
Several months later, Kentucky continued to be the favorite according to national recruiting analysts, but slight whispers of Clemson being a threat to the Wildcats were growing louder. Williamson’s stepfather played basketball for the Tigers, and his passion for the state of South Carolina is well-known. He stayed at home to play in high school and AAU ball, while most star prospects opt to play at prep schools or national powerhouse AAU programs.
Still, though, the opportunity to team up with other high-profile athletes with an opportunity to win a National Championship at Kentucky seemed too good to pass up.
Now, nearly every recruiting insider is reporting Clemson as the runaway favorite for Williamson when he decides on the 20th.
Matt Jones is hearing the same thing, along with several other local Kentucky writers.
After talking to folks in Lexington today, I get the sense â€œZion to Clemsonâ€ buzz is real. The Jan 20 decision date has led to pessimism. 2 weeks a long time but Clemson is now (for the first time) my pick
— Matt Jones (@KySportsRadio) January 4, 2018
So what happened?
Clemson’s recent success and Trae Young happened. KSR’s Jay Winkler wrote a post earlier about the season the Tigers are having, ranked in the top-25 and improving by the game. They likely return three of five starters next season on a team that will almost certainly make a splash in the big dance. Williamson would be able to join a solid team with a strong foundation, yet still be considered “the guy” and put up inflated numbers.
Oklahoma’s Trae Young went against the grain and stayed at home to play for the Sooners, shooting down schools like Kansas, Kentucky, Duke, and Arizona. He wanted the bulk of shots this season, and he’s now the National Player of the Year favorite as a result. Obviously Williamson isn’t a point guard and the Tigers can’t set up offenses around him like the Sooners can do with Young, but he’d still be the focal point on the team.
Though the tide is turning toward Clemson, John Calipari and the Kentucky coaching staff have to finish these last two weeks of his recruitment strong.
When RJ Barrett committed to Duke back in, the general consensus was that the future addition of Zion Williamson would more than make up for the loss. It made losing Cam Reddish, Bol Bol, Romeo Langford, and Simi Shittu, among others, understandable. When Calipari zeroes in on a star to headline the class, he usually pulls it off.
Without Williamson, there’s a massive chance the Cats finish the 2018 class without a superstar, and would only be able to make that happen by convincing 2019 No. 1 prospect James Wiseman to reclassify. Wiseman will likely be a Wildcat whenever he plays college basketball, but he has recently said a reclassification isn’t an option.
As we’ve seen this season, things are extremely difficult when a Calipari one-and-done team doesn’t have a go-to superstar. John Wall, Brandon Knight, Anthony Davis, Julius Randle, Karl-Anthony Towns, etc., all came in as sure things, and they each provided go-to options for the Cats throughout their respective seasons. In a few of those years, not having multiple superstars, let alone one, even limited production. This year, Kevin Knox has shown signs of being that guy, but his confidence and field goal percentage have plummeted in recent weeks. Hamidou Diallo certainly wants to be a superstar, but inconsistency with his jump shot and forcing the issue is limiting that, as well.
There’s still time for things to turn around, and I expect them to, but this season is a perfect reason why getting Williamson is so crucial.
If several key pieces return as expected, Williamson would likely be the difference between a great season and a special season. His ability to take games over and score at will is something you rarely see at his age. I watched him play in-person several times during the AAU circuit this summer, and there was never a player that matched his motor and pure dominance. He asserted himself and made a point of outplaying the opponent every time he touched the ball, no matter how big or talented they were. He had the “it” factor that can win you games by himself no matter how big or bright the stage. He had Final Four MOP potential.
I don’t care if Calipari has to get desperate with Williamson. Light his phone up. Have a different staff member visit his home every day. Make promises for playing time and superstar status, I don’t care. We’re not talking Louisville-level desperation, but the Kentucky staff has to have a sense of urgency in this home stretch. Calipari has taken a backseat to Coach K and Duke in the recruiting department the past several years, and turning momentum in this recruitment would be a massive step in the right direction. Coach Cal has to unleash Swaggy Cal.
Get Zion Williamson in blue and white. The Cats need a superstar next season, and Williamson is that guy.