This past week, the most prolific rivalry in college basketball took place once again. The end result: the Carolina Tar Heels defeated the Duke Blue Devils 88-72. Being fans of the game, this was one of the most anticipated Tobacco Road matchups in recent memory, but it proved to be a letdown from the start.
Less than a minute into the game, Duke’s freshman phenom Zion Williamson suffers a knee injury after completely bursting through his left shoe. The injury is later confirmed as a mild knee sprain, but that’s just the beginning.
You’ve probably heard of Zion Williamson: He’s 6’7, 285 pounds, can jump four feet into the air and shoots over 60% from the field. Williamson’s most comparable pro counterpart has to be LeBron James, and Scottie Pippen compares the Duke star to his former Chicago Bulls teammate, saying, “He’s the best college prospect since Michael Jordan.”
Given his physical dominance, Williamson will likely be the first overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. He is set to make millions over his career. However, the events that unfolded on Wednesday night now prompt us to put a microscope upon the fact that college basketball players are not compensated for their abilities or the strain they put on their bodies.
Let’s put that in perspective: The Carolina-Duke game reached Super Bowl ticket prices. That’s over $3000. Why? Not only because of the rivalry, but because thousands of people wanted to see Williamson in action. However, while universities, TV networks and the NCAA reap the benefits of Williamson’s play, Zion himself will not see a dime of that revenue.
In response, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and his team of executives are proposing to lower the draft age from 19 to 18. This would all but eliminate the “one-and-done” rule, which is, ostensibly, the main reason for Williamson even being in college right now. Still, there are plenty of individuals who are not for this proposal, as a college education is important to have. Nobody is disagreeing with that, but most of these athletes have a future in professional basketball.
Some are suggesting that Williamson refuse to play and instead train in anticipation for June’s NBA Draft. It’s an interesting notion, but one that may not hold much water with Zion himself.
Earlier this season, when Williamson suffered an injury, he made his stance clear: “I just can’t stop playing..If I wanted to sit out, I wouldn’t have went to college.”
Meanwhile, Golden State Warriors star center Demarcus Cousins had some interesting advice for Zion. “Do what’s best for you and your family.”
Let’s weigh Zion’s options:
If Zion remains active for Duke, he will play in the NCAA Tournament and give his team a great chance at winning a national championship. By playing, Williamson is risking further injury that could cost him tens of millions of dollars later down the line.
On the other hand, if Zion makes the decision to sit out, he will be able to preserve his body for the NBA. He will be, at the absolute worst, a top-five pick. He would, however, be leaving Duke out to dry. The Blue Devils would have a tough road to the Final Four with Zion not with the team.
Many believe Williamson should prioritize his future NBA career over a semester-and-a-half of college basketball. It makes sense; after all, what does Williamson owe the NCAA? If the NCAA allowed its players to profit off their own names, these teenagers wouldn’t be rushing off to the NBA so they can make a life for themselves. But that’s a story for another day.
The clock is ticking, will Zion set his focus on the present and finish the season or re-shift his focus on his NBA future?