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Zion Williamson’s decision is a game changer for the program

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.

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.

Article written by Jack Pilgrim

Follow me on Twitter: @JackPilgrimKSR

40 responses to “Zion Williamson’s decision is a game changer for the program”

  1. wildcat2012

    Why, dear God do we keep talking about Zion and Trae Young? When it’s obvious we aren’t getting a kid, just let it be instead of hyping it up more and more. I remember when you posted that we would never hear of Trae Young again after he committed to OU, now that’s a subject every week. We are about to have five NBA all stars this year, Cal is now in the stage of his legacy where he is chasing championships and developing Gym rats and Good team mates. Cal knows what it takes to win in college and his recent recruiting shows that. Hype up the guys who are hungry to come here instead of the ones who aren’t worthy of our time.

    1. jos_ros_


    2. timewilltell

      Never promise a kid anything but a chance to earn playing time. Earn is the key word. Cal tells them all up front. Come here an earn!!!!

    3. Angelo


    4. Rembrandt

      I agree with Wildcat2012 on this one. UK has won eight national championships. Since Cal got here, how many 17 year olds with UK scholarship offers have announced decisions? Zion Williamson’s decision is NOT a game changer. The suggestion is ridiculous.

    5. bosshogg24

      No NBA players on this team as of now unless things change quickly! The NBA is not looking for slow lazy players that can’t shoot!

  2. Han

    If there’s any concern about there not being enough minutes to go around or platoon taking away from his chance to shine (as I’ve seen some people speculate), Cal should point to Towns and Booker, both one-and-done and both starring in the NBA.

    If Zion comes here, he can have that and compete for a title while practicing against future NBA players.

    1. 3 fan

      Don’t need that superstar? Yeah right as we fall out of the top 20

  3. jahanc2uky

    Dont need em. Give me 2-3 McDonalds All-Americans every year, like UNC gets and we will games with our depth. The road might be bumpy this year, but Juniors SKJ & Gabriel, Somp. Richards, Vandy, Washington, Knox, SGA, & Green, plus 2-3 McDonalds All-Americans is a Championship team.

    1. callitlikeiseeit

      I’ve said the same thing all along and get bashed for it. No way depending on 6 FR and 2 SO, who hardly played, can win a title and that is supposed to be what UK is about. Give me 4 star JR and SR and add in a couple one and done each year and we would have a multiple titles last 8 years and be in contention this year. Next year could be huge if most come back, and the way they are playing they may not have a choice.

  4. notFromhere

    Season changer. It would help, but without developing the returning players (and allowing some to return that dont want to leave), it won’t result in a title run.

  5. 3 fan

    Our recruiting of top 5 players has sucked since Antiqua left. This year is perfect example of what happens
    Cal get a recruiter. Can Barbee and get someone who can get these kids
    And we flat out screwed up on Young. Face it.

    1. Angelo

      Wow. a bit harsh, I hope…

    2. Rabbi Li

      I have to say I liked Orlando Antiqua’s the most of any of Cal’s assistants.

      He’s a personality… and that has to help on the recruiting trail. Proof is in the pudding from his time here. Coach O can sell UK Basketball.

    3. J-Dub421

      Orlando Antigua is so important that neither of you actually know how to spell his name.

    4. Rembrandt

      This post by 3 fans is a naive overreaction to Marvin Bagley’s reclassification to Duke and Zion Williamson’s rumored interest in staying close to home at Clemson.

      Kenny Payne is, by far, the most important assistant coach Cal has had at UK. Payne is one of the best teachers in the country. He developed Karl Towns and Anthony Davis from raw freshmen into overall #1 NBA draft choices. Payne is also a fine recruiter.

      If you actually believe the departure of Orlando Antigua (who was fired at USF because of a scandal, BTW) has produced a deterioration in UK’s recruiting, then kindly explain three things. How is it, then, that UK’s recruiting classes continue to be #1 or #2 in the nation every year? What is fundamentally different between recruiting Rivals’ #1-5 ranked prospects versus recruiting Rivals’ #6-10 ranked prospects? How come UK leads for James Wiseman and Matthew Hurt? How did that happen?

    5. 3 fan

      1. UK’s recruiting class stays high because of the number of recruits each year. Getting the 10-25 players and getting several of them keeps us high in the rankings

      2. Difference between 1-5 and 6-10 is that the top 2-3 are usually game changers. Look at Bagley and Ayton. Think Knox is on their level?

      3. UK seems to always be a leader in the top 3 players at some point. We were leaders for Ayton at one point. Andrew Wiggins at one point. Zion Williamson. RJ Barrett. Trae Young. Got none of them.

  6. Jonathan40330

    Personally, I think less turnover may not be a bad thing because what you lose in sure-fire talent in the form of OADs, you gain in the form of talented four and five star upperclassmen. Cal’s approach works well IF you are grabbing three of the top ten players in the nation every season, but doesn’t work so well when you “settle” for players in the middle to bottom stages of the five star range or upper four star range. Calipari is obviously a quality recruiter, but the loss of Antigua has taken its toll on the signing of elite (top five) recruits.

  7. KYJelly

    We didn’t screw up not getting Trae Young. Building offense around one guy, giving him free reign to shoot as much as he wants, and hinging your season on that player is not how Cal operates. He gets 3-5 talented players and gets them to play together and bring the best out of each other. There was a reason there were a lot of rumors of players not wanting to play with Young. Oklahoma is playing with fire because come tournament time, all it takes is an injury to Young or a lockdown defender stifling him and you’re done, it’s why you don’t make your team about one player.

    1. runningunnin.454

      Correct. Jevon Carter completely shut Young down til he got in foul trouble. Young got his 29; but only 8-22, and 3-12 from the three line. And he only had 5 assists. And, Oklahoma lost the game.
      One man team can’t win.

  8. DelrayCat

    The biggest problem is that UK has created a culture and national identity as a one-year-and-done program. Therefore, if a kid is not ready to go pro after a year, he feels like he has failed. This dynamic also means a lot of kids pull the trigger to go pro before they are ready…or he just decides to transfer to a school with lessor expectations (Matthews and Lee come to mind).

    1. 3 fan

      100% true. Nailed it

  9. Rabbi Li

    Wow this is almost a weekly occurrence now Jack – you said, “Zion Williamson’s decision is a game changer for the program.” Decision not a game changer for the program.

    This team needs experience. Zion is no Anthony Davis.

    1. 4everUKblue

      A lot of players look like superstars in high school as we have seen.

  10. Jiminy Crickets

    three things happen to recruiting.
    1. Coach O left
    2. 2015 Happen, both platooning and coaches saying “See Coach Cal cant win, even with the most talented team in a decade”
    3. USAU19 happen. first USA coach not to win in 16 years. A team Cal hand picked. Since then every single player that UK thought they had as heavy favorites, went elsewhere. BolBol, Cam Reddish, Shitsu, Barrett,

    I hope he comes here ONLY because it will show recruitswe have not slipped.

    1. 4everUKblue

      Did anyone notice how much talent K had last year? He had arguably the best talent in the country last season and didn’t make it out of the sweet sixteen and the game wasn’t close. Also does anyone think Marvin Bagley would have been allowed to play anywhere but dUKe? Whoever said we need experience got it right. We are playing against much more experienced teams and it shows. I like the quality of kids he recruits all good character kids. We have not had the off the court issues many other programs have had.

    2. 3 fan

      I agree Cal coaching Team USA did not help one bit and probably hurt us.

  11. bigblue2018

    I disagree about needing a superstar. YouTube any UK game (try the games against Duke or Utah) from 1998 and tell me why we have to have a superstar. There was no superstar on that team, there were no clear cut draft picks on that team and they won it all. They won it all because they played as a team. This years team can win it all if they play as a team, they could’ve won in Knoxville if they had played as a team for the full 40 minutes.

    1. 4everUKblue

      I agree we could have won in Knoxville if the same team that showed up for the first half and shown up for the second half. They looked like two completely different teams.

  12. steve simpson

    Worst KSR post I’ve read. You sound foolish. The day Cal starts begging and promising he’s done. Quit blowing up guys that didn’t come here or aren’t coming here and report on the ones we have. You’re hurting more than helping.

    1. 4everUKblue

      ^^^ BINGO!

    2. ThatsAShame

      Agree!!! Hey Jack/KSR, please stop with the hyperbole. It borders on clickbait. “This is a game changer!” “That is a must win game”.

      Zion is going to change UK program going forward. The landscape is evolving. Cal will adjust. Breath and stop posting stuff like this that only serves to fan the flames of the already overly-paranoid.

  13. Alleykat16

    I’m sick and tired of hearing about players that are not coming here or went somewhere else I’m sure those teams websites are hyping those players enough without needing us to hype them up to. I’m a type to believe if your not playing for us your playing against us and dont care to hear about you why don’t yall write articles about Herro,Quickley and Johnson instead I could care less about flipped Tre and if Zion is headed to Clemson well good bye and dont want to be ya. So come on guys right stories,about the ones that’s coming and let the other ones go be with who ever they,playing for do the writing for them

  14. BCO

    While I generally agree that I think as long as we get either Wiseman or Zion, next year will be special, I think some of ya’ll are under-selling what this kid is.

    All the eye-popping stuff youre seeing is him out of shape and [email protected]$$ing it. If our staff gets him and gets him bought in to get in shape and be GREAT…he would go down as one of the top 3 or 4 all time talents ever here.

    While Jack may have over-exaggerated a bit, don’t act like this is just any player we’re potentially missing on. He could go to Clemson and underwhelm and do whatever he wants and maybe get to the second round of the dance, or come here and chase a legacy with your good friend who is also the best point guard in the class…

    Seems like a no-brainer to me but what do I know. Im still confident this is a smoke-screen and we land him ala Kevin Knox, although that’s nothing but a gut feeling.

    We’ll see. I for one really, really, really hope we get him.

  15. UKfanman01

    Cal losing to K in recruiting? Duke hasn’t done squat with any of em either

  16. Kat4Life

    This ship sailed long ago……..Zion is not coming to UK, and we’ll be fine.

  17. kjd

    Wow! He dominates the AAU circuit. His motor is going full tilt every time he touches the ball.
    Question: What’s his motor without the ball? What’s his motor on defense? I haven’t seen him play, so I’m curious.
    A true superstar, IMO, has a complete game.

  18. mapcatfan

    Don’t know why any 5* player would look to Trae Young as an example (maybe than other a point guard). He is one example. However there are several examples of very elite players electing to go the “home route” that ended up not being a good decision basketball-wise.

  19. check

    We have witnessed this season each player with at least one break-out game. Imagine if these kids did that in the same game. We are stacked with talent. They just realize them in separate games. Imagine also an increased frequency of each player’s good game. Wouldn’t that make blue and white beasts by March. And now Vanderbilt is back to practices. Next year we’re adding Quickley, Johnson and Herro. Plus Baker should be healthy. Zion would be icing next year, but not a necessity.

  20. dballrb

    Classic troll writing. Got alot of differing opinions going on.Good job.