LeBron James Praises Zion Williamson's Athleticism, Maturity After Duke vs. UVA

Paul KasabianSenior ContributorFebruary 15, 2019

LOUISVILLE, KY - FEBRUARY 12: Zion Williamson #1 of the Duke Blue Devils drives to the basket against the Louisville Cardinals in the second half of the game at KFC YUM! Center on February 12, 2019 in Louisville, Kentucky. Duke came from behind to win 71-69. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

If there's anyone who could assume LeBron James' throne as the NBA's best player over a prolonged stretch, it might be Duke forward Zion Williamson, who is averaging 22.0 points on 68.0 percent shooting for the No. 2 Blue Devils.

James was on hand to watch Williamson stuff the stat sheet with 18 points, five assists, five rebounds, three steals and three blocks in Duke's 81-71 win at Virginia last Saturday.

On Friday, Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com released an interview with James regarding his appearance at the Duke-UVA matchup and his thoughts on Williamson's game.

"What strikes me? His agility and his quickness," James said. "For his size, how strong he is, to be able to move like the way he moves, he's very impressive. I mean, everybody can see the athleticism. That's obviously, that's ridiculous. But the speed and the quickness that he moves (with) at that size is very impressive."

James also said Williamson "seems like he has great intangibles and seems like a great kid."

The 6'7", 285-pound big man, who is also posting 9.3 rebounds, 2.3 steals and 2.0 blocks per game, can overpower any defense. Josh Planos of FiveThirtyEight called him the best college basketball player in at least a decade, and Williamson's 42.3 player efficiency rating is the highest mark in D-I men's hoops in at least 10 years, per Sports Reference.

James took in the game with his agent, Rich Paul, as well as teammates Rajon Rondo and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. The Paul appearance caused some recruitment speculation, including comments from Darren Rovell of the Action Network.

Both James and Paul denied any recruiting took place.

"A recruiting trip? I didn't talk to anybody," James said. "They're only saying that because it's Rich. When Shaq came to see me play in high school, when A.I. came to see me play in high school, they weren't saying it was a recruiting trip then. But because it's Rich Paul and LeBron, now it's a recruitment trip.

"Now Rich is a threat to everybody and they look at it and they want to keep trying to jab my agent and jab my friend. And what is he doing that's wrong? They don't say that about no other agent when other guys go see (players). They don't say that about no other agent but my guy because he's a threat."

James also mentioned that Paul could be receiving more scrutiny because he's African American. Paul added his own remarks, noting that his group was "just enjoying a basketball game" and did not speak with anyone. He also discussed the "coded language"—McMenamin's phrase—that he's been targeted with during his career.

Williamson is sure to be one of the most coveted prospects in recent basketball history when he officially declares for the NBA draft. Paul and Klutch Sports will likely hope to land Williamson as their client, and the same probably goes for any other certified NBA agent.

Ultimately, the James-Paul group's appearance at the game seems much ado about nothing. The biggest takeaway is that one of the sport's all-time greats showered Williamson with praise, adding to the player's lore.

As for now, Williamson is looking to help lead the Blue Devils to a national championship. They are the clear favorites to take it at 9-5, per Vegas Insider, with Gonzaga in second at 7-1.

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