Zion Williamson Almost Didn't Enter 2019 NBA Draft, Wanted to Return to Duke

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistJanuary 8, 2020

Duke forward Zion Williamson (1) reacts after getting called for a foul against Central Florida during the second half of a second-round game in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament Sunday, March 24, 2019, in Columbia, S.C. Duke defeated Central Florida 77-76. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)
Sean Rayford/Associated Press

New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson said he wanted to spend another season at Duke and waited all the way until the deadline for underclassmen to declare before officially entering the 2019 NBA draft. 

Williamson explained during an appearance on The JJ Redick Podcast with his Pelicans teammate he knew Blue Devils head coach Mike Krzyzewski wouldn't let him return, and conversations with his mom, step dad and teammates helped finalize his decision despite his desire to remain in college:

The 2019 Naismith College Player of the Year was selected by New Orleans with the first overall pick in June's draft, but he's yet to make his NBA debut while completing his recovery from knee surgery.

Williamson was a virtually unstoppable force at the collegiate level. He averaged 22.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 2.1 steals and 1.8 blocks while shooting 68 percent from the field in 33 games.

It was clear he didn't have anything left to prove at Duke, and it was viewed as a foregone conclusion he would be a one-and-done college player, especially after he suffered a knee injury in a rivalry game against UNC.

The North Carolina native's comments show it took quite a bit of convincing from his circle of trust in order for him to make the NBA jump, though.

It would have been an immense risk staying with the Blue Devils because he would have been putting guaranteed placement atop the draft in jeopardy if more injuries arose.

Williamson is already facing questions in the NBA about whether his 6'6" frame can handle his weight (284 pounds) and athleticism given his knee problems. He suffered a minor knee injury in his Las Vegas Summer League debut and had surgery after appearing in four preseason games.

That's why Krzyzewski, who's dealt with countless top prospects over the years, wouldn't have allowed such a unique talent to come back.

"I learned a lot from him in those few months, it's actually crazy to me," Williamson said about Coach K on The JJ Redick Podcast.

The Pelicans are happy he ultimately entered the draft as he's their new franchise cornerstone after the offseason trade of Anthony Davis, and as a result they're going to play it extremely safe with him once he receives final clearance to starting playing in games.

New Orleans Pelicans @PelicansNBA

Gentry said Zion will have a minutes restriction when he returns. "We will be overly cautious" https://t.co/mTrSwjTCqL

Meanwhile, the well-oiled Duke machine has continued running almost flawlessly without him as it sits atop the ACC standings with a 13-1 record, including a 3-0 mark in conference play.