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Why Zion Williamson Shouldn’t Shut It Down

Photo: Rob Kinnan/USA Today

Photo: Rob Kinnan/USA Today

Duke and North Carolina played on Wednesday night. But as we all know by now, the story wasn’t the game itself, but instead, what happened 33 seconds in.

You don’t need me to tell you, but it was at that moment, when Duke star Zion Williamson made a sharp cut – and his foot literally burst out of his shoe. In the process, he went down with a knee injury which caused him to miss the rest of the game.

Of course, before Zion even got up off the floor and walked away under his own power, it sent the internet into a frenzy, re-instigating all the same, tired debates about college sports that never seem to end. And even after the game, even after Coach K came out and said that it was a minor knee sprain, one that wouldn’t keep Zion out for very long, it didn’t stop people from engaging in those same arguments again. People love to complain on the internet (who knew) and man oh man were they on a heater Wednesday.

People were complaining about amateurism. About paying college athletes. And about how it pertains to Zion Williamson specifically. The conversation wrapped with the single biggest talking point in all of college sports today: Should Zion Williamson sit out the rest of the season and get ready for the NBA Draft?

The honest answer is “Zion should do whatever the hell he wants,” and anyone who tells you any differently is just spitting out what side of the narrative they fall on. At the end of the day, whatever Zion Williamson decides is best for him, we should all support it. He’s earned that right after four months of college basketball.

However, if he were asking me for advice, I’d tell him this: Not only should he not shut things down for the season, there isn’t actually one, genuinely good reason why he should. Assuming he is healthy and can’t further damage that knee, he should go play his heart out, chase a championship, and enjoy his final weeks as a kid before he enters a grown man’s world in the NBA.

For starters, let’s get one important notion out of the way right off the top: The biggest reason for Zion to shut it down is “fear of injury.” The problem is, that as I said when Scottie Pippen first suggested this a month ago, the “fear of injury” risk, isn’t any real risk at all. There is literally no injury that Zion could suffer on the court that will hurt his draft stock. Not a single one. And if the reason for him to shut it down is “fear of injury” well, he’s just as likely to get hurt training and getting ready for the draft as he would be to play in actual games.

Don’t believe me? Well, recent history is littered with guys who suffered injuries during their college careers without it impacting their draft stock one bit. Remember, Kyrie Irving missed most of his only season at Duke – he still went No. 1 overall. Joel Embiid missed his final few weeks at Kansas and it was clear he’d miss his entire rookie year – and he still went No. 3 overall. Nerlens Noel suffered an ACL tear in February – he still went No. 6 in that year’s NBA Draft.

And keep in mind that none of those players was nearly the prospect that Zion Williamson is. None was as nearly as safe of a bet as Zion is at this moment – and yet none of those injuries hurt the individual player’s draft stock. That’s also why I feel confident saying that no injury will keep Zion from going No. 1. He has proven to be too good and way too valuable to a franchise to ever pass up in the draft. Even if God forbid an injury happened, there isn’t a single GM who is risking his entire career by passing on Zion Williamson. If you pass on Zion and he develops into the star we all think he can become, you are never living it down. Again, no one is taking that risk.

Still, let’s take this a step further. Let’s say that hypothetically that major injury did happen to Zion and it caused him to tumble down draft boards. None of us want it to happen obviously, but for the sake of argument, let’s play that game.

You know what would happen? Zion would still become a millionaire.

That’s because according to Darren Rovell, before the season Duke took out an insurance policy for Zion. It will pay him $8 million dollars if he suffers a major injury. So even if he goes down, he will still be a millionaire.

To which I ask: If he will become a millionaire regardless of what happens, what is the actual reason for him to sit out?

I guess a case could be made that “what’s the point of playing if he isn’t getting paid right now.” Putting aside the fact I’m pretty sure that agents and shoe companies are, ahem, providing “guidance” to the family behind the scenes (I doubt anyone is scraping quarters out of the couch cushions to pay for meals), we already went over this a few weeks ago. When Scottie Pippen first suggested Williamson “shut it down” Zion eloquently explained that it was a non-starter. That he came to Duke to play for Coach K. And that he wants to finish what he started.

We also need to give credit where it’s due to Duke as well. I know the media hates to say anything nice about college basketball, but the bottom-line is that Duke has played in a role in Zion Williamson’s success as well. No one had Zion Williamson the consensus No. 1 pick in this NBA Draft before he arrived at Duke, and I’ve seen mock drafts from the spring and summer that had him as low as No. 4 or No. 5 in the draft. While it doesn’t seem like much, the difference between being the No. 1 pick in the draft and No. 4 is over $12 million in salary over the course of the rookie contract. Therefore, for everyone saying “He could lose millions” by continuing to play college basketball, I’d say that’s simply not true. To take things a step further, the facts are, he’s actually made millions more than he would have had he been allowed to go to the NBA straight out of high school.

And that doesn’t even include his increased endorsement value, which leads me to this: I actually think the more Zion plays basketball for free in college, the more it will help continue to expand his brand as he inches towards the NBA. Yes, the player with the biggest brand we’ve seen in college basketball in years, could get even bigger.

Think about it.

Over the last couple months, Zion Williamson has gone from a name that basketball junkies and YouTube/Instagram followers knew, to a household name, thanks to college basketball and the exposure he provides. He has become one of the biggest stories in all of sports, someone that isn’t just discussed on basketball podcasts and by Jay Bilas and Seth Greenberg, but a real, legitimate talking point among Stephen A. Smith, Skip Bayless and pretty much anyone who talks sports for a living. At this point, Duke games regularly out-rate NBA games (Duke-Virginia actually had more viewers than Rockets-Thunder that same night). At this particular moment, people are as interested in the future of the NBA as they are in the present.

Zion is already a household name, but as big as he is, but isn’t it fair to say he can get even bigger by sticking it out and playing in the NCAA Tournament? Can you imagine him being the biggest talking point in sports for a whole month through March?

It seems like something that shouldn’t matter, but it does. Keep in mind that the Duke-Virginia game drew a little over 2 million viewers – which is absolutely awesome, but pales in comparison to big NCAA Tournament games. As an example, last year’s title game drew nearly 17 million viewers – 17 MILLION – and that was considered a low, bad rating for a title game. North Carolina against Gonzaga did 26 million viewers the year before. That’s 13 times the number that Duke-Virginia did.

It’s insane to think about, but as big as Zion Williamson’s brand is, it could get bigger.

At the end of the day, it’s up to Zion to decide what is best for him.

But as long as he’s healthy, I’d advise him to stick things out and finish what he started at Duke.

Article written by Aaron Torres

Aaron Torres is covering football and basketball for KSR this season after four years at Fox Sports. Follow him on Twitter @Aaron_Torres, Facebook or e-mail at [email protected] He is also the author of the only book written on the Calipari era, “One and Fun: A Behind the Scenes Look at John Calipari and the 2010 Kentucky Wildcats.”

41 Comments for Why Zion Williamson Shouldn’t Shut It Down

  1. 4everUKblue
    8:05 pm February 21, 2019 Permalink

    Easy for you to say, you don’t have mega millions riding on your health.

    • notFromhere
      8:23 pm February 21, 2019 Permalink

      Exactly. That injury is a shot across the bow. He should be sitting in a whirlpool tub until April

    • Cletis75
      8:30 pm February 21, 2019 Permalink

      Exactly! Aaron Torres is an idiot if he don’t think knee injury could hurt his draft stock. His whole game is based on his explosiveness. Knee injuries and surgeries are terrible for explosive players. It’s not like he’s a 3 point specialist. He relies totally on his ability to blow by defenders and explode to the rim, and that’s the reason he is the top prospect in college basketball today. If he causes more injury to that knee and he loses half a step, it could cost him millions during his career. If AT believes otherwise, then he is a moron!

  2. jsuge20
    8:05 pm February 21, 2019 Permalink

    Please stop with the Duke shit… we do not care

    • BBNmemberinoh
      8:55 pm February 21, 2019 Permalink

      My thoughts as well. We have as many, or more, articles on him as we did when Travis was hurt.
      ON TO UK NEWS: And GREAT news at that. UK Hoops just got a huge win at South Carolina 65-57.

  3. 1IH
    8:08 pm February 21, 2019 Permalink

    “There is literally no injury that Zion could suffer on the court that will hurt his draft stock.”

    Please call Michael Porter and ask him about this statement above. He will spit on the phone.

    • CatfaninCinci
      8:18 pm February 21, 2019 Permalink

      Aaron, as a health care professional. I can 100% disagree with this guy. There are injuries that would and could absolutely jeopardize his career. And a strained ligament in a knee would make him more prone to having it. That said, those type injuries are more rare. However, simply stating that does not make it true. It’s out and out false.

    • CatfaninCinci
      8:19 pm February 21, 2019 Permalink

      Crap… I mean agree with this guy. It autocorrected

    • bigbluebanana
      8:36 pm February 21, 2019 Permalink

      I mean, if we are going to take “literally” literally, then there are literally tons of injuries Zion could not return from. What if his head falls off after hitting the rim? What if a light falls from the rafters and crushed him? Certainly couldn’t return or continue to play from an injury that causes death. Literally is being overused to death. People need to use “essentially”, “basically”, “virtually”, and words like that instead. Also, instead of being pedantic, I’ll address Aaron’s point. 1ih answered it pretty well. Michael Porter, and tons of other players have had their money making potential and careers severely cut back because of injury. Huge difference between 8 million for the rest of his life, or potentially 30-40 million every year. Zion should do what he wants to do, a case can be made for both sides of the argument, but saying Zion couldn’t hurt his future is not a very good one.

  4. John Capilari
    8:10 pm February 21, 2019 Permalink

    I think he should shut it down. Not b/c of all the crap, but b/c it gives us a better chance to win it all. Nuff said.

  5. Headhurts
    8:11 pm February 21, 2019 Permalink

    I wonder if he had came to KY and the same thing happened would Cal have played him, not sure.

    • 4everUKblue
      8:22 pm February 21, 2019 Permalink

      There is NO coach anywhere that care more about what’s in his players’ best interests than Cal, any true UK fan should know this.

  6. BBNnCLE
    8:23 pm February 21, 2019 Permalink

    You forgot to mention that Zions insurance policy is worthless unless he falls past the 16th Pick. Not a snowballs chance in hell of that happening

  7. clarks
    8:25 pm February 21, 2019 Permalink

    Shut it down cats win the title!!! Mic drop

  8. notFromhere
    8:26 pm February 21, 2019 Permalink

    Pitino would sit him if the media said he should… How could anyone NOT know that?

    Don’t care what coaches say about it. Dont care what the media says. He’s a wet spot in the floor from losing millions

  9. Luether
    8:30 pm February 21, 2019 Permalink

    Good, well presented post, Aaron…

  10. lindamyers56
    8:59 pm February 21, 2019 Permalink

    Wow what a stupid response. I’m sure Aaron would keep playing if he had millions and millions on the line.

  11. KYjellyRoll
    9:04 pm February 21, 2019 Permalink

    My opinion is…I don’t give a shi* what he does!!! This is KSR…not duke radio!

  12. shelby
    9:42 pm February 21, 2019 Permalink

    Yeh. Sam bowie’s career wasn’t hurt by a college injury!

    • BBNDan7
      10:10 pm February 21, 2019 Permalink

      While I agree that an injury could hurt his career, medicine has come a LONG way since the Bowie days. Much less likely a players career is ended by an injury nowadays. At least in basketball

    • Wilfred Smith
      9:34 am February 22, 2019 Permalink

      Yeah, it’s famous how Jordan was drafted ahead of Bowie.

      Oh, wait…

  13. IndianaSucks
    9:57 pm February 21, 2019 Permalink

    Didn’t read the article. You’re in crack if you think he shouldn’t shut it down. You can’t get higher than #1…

  14. Thetruthshallsetbennyfree
    10:09 pm February 21, 2019 Permalink

    Only a fan of a bug pile of Dukie would tell him to keep playing so they can still have a shot at a natty. Given the Duke love on here it wouldn’t suprise me if they’re was a couple of accidentally hired trolls.

  15. friendsofcoal
    10:09 pm February 21, 2019 Permalink

    First off, $200 million (wild guess) is a helluva lot more than $8 million and YES, Cal would lock him up in a dungeon for the rest of the season because he genuinely cares about the kids and their future!

    • BBNDan7
      10:11 pm February 21, 2019 Permalink

      He won’t make $200 million on his rookie contract. Lol maybe just maybe if he gets ridiculous sponsorship deals.

    • friendsofcoal
      11:10 pm February 21, 2019 Permalink

      I’m just grabbing $200 million out of the air for his career and it will probably be more than that unless (again) he endures some type of major injury.

    • BBNnCLE
      10:37 pm February 21, 2019 Permalink

      Not to mention he doesn’t even get the $8M unless he drops to the 16th Pick. Not happening. Did anyone actually think duke would pay for something like that?

  16. Catsfan1715
    10:59 pm February 21, 2019 Permalink

    This is the first I’ve ever heard of a college paying for this type of insurance. Is this a thing ? Does/has UK pay/paid for our players’ insurance ? Anyone know ?

    • friendsofcoal
      11:11 pm February 21, 2019 Permalink

      Colleges can pay for this insurance for kids who are pretty much locked into the draft. The player has to pay the school back after he is drafted. At least that’s how I’ve always understood it.

    • Catsfan1715
      11:30 pm February 21, 2019 Permalink


  17. KayutsBy90
    11:18 pm February 21, 2019 Permalink

    I know all of our guys are covered and I believe UK pays for it. I remember it mentioned a lot that UK covered the insurance when Nerlens went down.

    • Catsfan1715
      11:32 pm February 21, 2019 Permalink

      I think it’s great and makes perfect sense I just had no idea. Surprised the ncaa would allow it. Wonder if there’s a limit. Ex. One school promises 20m insurance and gains an edge bc the other is only willing to promise 10m…

    • friendsofcoal
      12:04 am February 22, 2019 Permalink

      I’m not sure but I would imagine that the NCAA requires everyone’s policy to be the same.

  18. rdcore2
    11:43 pm February 21, 2019 Permalink

    I stopped reading when you wrote it wouldn’t matter what injury could happen, he’d be a millionaire regardless – then cited the STARK drop from 1st overall to 4th in terms of contract money and yet a paragraph before cited Nerlens tearing his ACL and dropping to 6th when everyone had him projected as the 1 overall. Ask Nerlens how he feels about that? Then losing his 2nd payday to the NBA tv restructuring deal.

    Ass clown

  19. friendsofcoal
    12:06 am February 22, 2019 Permalink

    I wonder if Zion can sell those shoes on eBay? I’m guessing no because he obviously didn’t pay for them.

  20. Brad
    3:11 am February 22, 2019 Permalink

    Every one wanting him to sit out sounds scared of Duke in march. I want him to play when we bust them in the NCAA tourney

  21. bwise
    3:46 am February 22, 2019 Permalink

    Click bait article lol you have no idea what you’re talking about

  22. Sentient Third Eye
    10:11 am February 22, 2019 Permalink

    The bottom line is that protecting himself like a dainty little princess does not project the image a #1 pick should project. He needs to man up.