Let’s cut to the chase: Five-star forward Zion Williamson is absolutely the real deal, and John Calipari needs to do anything his power to get this kid to Lexington.
I’ll admit it, I wasn’t sold in the past. All of Williamson’s highlight tapes looked like he just bullied on kids half his size, and though the athleticism was always impressive, I was worried how he’d perform against top-level competition. Needless to say, I was anxious for the adidas Uprising Gauntlet event in Spartanburg, SC, where we’d see his play against some of the top players in America.
On day one of the adidas Gauntlet, Williamson dropped 31 points, nine rebounds, two assists, four blocks, and two steals in 31 minutes of play. Williamson was everything he was hyped up to be. The athleticism, defensive presence, ball handling, shooting ability, and sheer size. But I wanted to see more than one game at the event before I was all aboard the Zion hype train.
And then he went for 32 and nine. And then 24 and 19. And then 28 and 16 against star point guard Calipari’s likely first commitment in Immanuel Quickley. And then 33 and nine.
Williamson proved he was the best player at the event by a country mile, and I may go as far as to say he’s the best player in the country.
Let me break down some of the film, discuss the strengths and weaknesses in Williamson’s game, and touch on the prized recruit’s recruitment:
It may sound cliche, but you notice his size from a mile away: Williamson has the most NBA-ready body in the nation. We saw it with Julius Randle and Bam Adebayo, and now Williamson will follow a similar path.
There wasn’t a player on the court Williamson couldn’t bully, and you better believe he did just that. With the ability to barrel his way to the basket, initiate contact to go to the line, and create space around the basket, this kid has the ability to absolutely dominate the game.
One of the biggest knocks on his game has always been that he’s a bit undersized, but don’t tell him that. He’s a bowling ball with zero mercy for defenders:
Williamson doesn’t want to hear your “undersized” comments. Bullies his way to the basket on defender two inches taller, finishes with ease. pic.twitter.com/B50jZukglK
– Jack Pilgrim (@JackPilgrimKSR) July 13, 2017
This has always been Williamson’s bread and butter, but seeing it in person was fascinating. Whether it was grabbing a rebound over three defenders, pinning someone on the backboard with his shoulders above the rim, or throwing down a ridiculous slam, the top-five prospect put on a show.
His athleticism is second to none in this country, and it was evident this weekend.
You can see it on this block:
Zion Williamson puts his head above the rim to send this shot into the stands. Unbelievable athleticism. pic.twitter.com/LVfHcEJM5L
– Jack Pilgrim (@JackPilgrimKSR) July 13, 2017
And this one:
Defender claps in Zion Williamson’s face, immediately regrets it on the following possession… Armpit above the rim on the block. pic.twitter.com/VxXJdxGG1K
– Jack Pilgrim (@JackPilgrimKSR) July 15, 2017
And this dunk.
Down 8 points with 5 min to go, Zion Williamson put the team on his back for the comeback. 31 points total and this vicious slam to seal it. pic.twitter.com/FlndJ9XOsP
— Jack Pilgrim (@JackPilgrimKSR) July 13, 2017
I could post hundreds of videos I took showing off his ridiculous athleticism, but we’ll save that for another time. There’s a lot more to his game than just jumping out of the gym.
At 6’8, 250 lbs., Williamson does things you shouldn’t be able to do at his size. While dribbling through defenders, making full court touchdown passes for easy layups, and bringing the ball up court, you’d think he was just a freak of nature guard.
And then two possessions later he posts up the biggest player on the opposing team and babies him to the basket, either dunking on him or pulling off a beautiful post move.
You’re left both speechless and with your jaw wide open more often than not.
On defense, the Spartanburg native can defend all five positions on the floor. Throughout the weekend, Williamson chose the opposing team’s best player and guarded him for the majority of the game. He will play mostly at the three and four, but he absolutely will not be a liability on defense when switched onto guards or massive centers.
Calipari lives and breathes versatility, and Williamson is the prototype of just that.
This kid can do it all.
A knee injury sidelined Williamson for several weeks earlier this year, and many spectators were worried about how he would respond when he got back onto the court. Not only did he come back stronger than ever, his shot dramatically improved.
While injured, the five-star prospect told reporters he was able to really focus on his shooting touch, working at the free throw line, his mid-range game, and his shot behind the arc.
Within minutes at the event, you were able to see a fine example of the improvement:
Williamson with the beautiful fake, finishes with the floater. pic.twitter.com/hBPr4oL3TP
– Jack Pilgrim (@JackPilgrimKSR) July 13, 2017
Williamson would go on to shoot extremely well from three, even going four-for-four from deep in one matchup. He also made several pull-ups from midrange and a few floaters for good measure.
Though his shot has certainly improved, there are still some things Williamson needs to work on before we start considering him a knockdown shooter in college. We’ll discuss those later.
Well… there weren’t many. The few weaknesses to his game seemed to revolve around working a little too hard and/or being so tired from putting the team on his back and playing nearly all of the 32 total minutes in each game. But we’ll give it a shot.
A bit out of control
When Williamson builds up too much momentum, he tends to get a little carried away and loses his handles or bulldozes defenders for charges. There were several times his teammates’ shots weren’t falling and he’d have to single-handedly take over a game, but turn the ball over in the process when double-teamed.
The Kentucky recruit loves having the ball in his hands, and most of the time, he does some pretty fascinating things with it. Other times, however, his big-game gene will force him to make some silly mistakes when better opportunities were available.
When he gathers speed and puts his head down in the lane, trouble (sometimes) follows.
Giving up on plays
Williamson got a little lazy on defense throughout the weekend, failing to get back on fast breaks, giving up offensive rebounds, etc.
Late in games, he doesn’t close out well on defenders, giving up big shots that let the opposing team right back in the game. There were a few times that each impressive basket Williamson managed on the offensive end would turn into a bucket given up on the other.
Again, five games in three days at 30+ minutes a game will do that to you, but it is worth noting.
Free throws/shooting ability
As I mentioned earlier, both good and bad comes from Williamson shooting the ball. Inconsistency is the name of the game with Williamson, and it might take a while before that gets fixed completely.
When he gets hot, he’s the most dominant player in the world and can score from all three levels of the floor. It’s a scary sight.
When he’s struggling, however, it’s rough to watch. And he can struggle from beyond the arc just as much as he can get hot.
Similar to Julius Randle, he’s going to take jumpers at the college level, and he’s probably going to frustrate fans with it at times. They’ll go in at a fair rate, but he’ll miss enough of them to make you yell at the television.
Williamson has to work on his consistency from both the line and beyond the arc during his senior year before getting to college.
It’s obvious every school in the country wants him; he’s the most entertaining high school prospect this country has to offer. Williamson told KSR he’s still open to all schools and won’t be putting together any formal “list” before making a decision.
The main schools in the running, however, seem to be UK, Kansas, Duke, UNC, South Carolina, and Clemson.
On Friday evening, five-star PG Immanuel Quickley told KSR he and Williamson had a package deal in the works, and both parties would talk to their respective families about taking the proper steps to make it happen. Williamson followed it up by telling KSR there was “a lot of truth” to the package deal and that Quickley was the exact type of point guard he wants to play with.
Yesterday, Williamson told Kyle Tucker of SEC Country things are heating up on the package deal front:
“That’s the real deal. I want to play with Immanuel Quickley when I go to college,” he said. “If he goes to Kentucky, then I’m going to look into Kentucky really hard.”
(Another tidbit of information for you all reading all the way to this point: I talked to someone with Quickley’s AAU team at the event that said “Quickley is going to have a hard time saying no to Kentucky. A lot of the local people want him to go to Maryland, but that’s not happening. I’d put it at about 98% he ends up at Kentucky.”)
With Quickley likely making his college decision in the next month or so and Kentucky being the odds-on favorite in his recruitment, you put the puzzle pieces together.
This Zion Williamson-to-Kentucky thing is absolutely real, and the BBN needs to prepare accordingly. He’s one of the best basketball players I’ve seen in person in the last decade.