Duke’s Zion Williamson revels in Cameron’s atmosphere with no NCAA concerns

Countdown to Craziness Duke Blue Devils begin basketball season with a bang

The 2018-19 Blue Devil basketball team is introduced to the fan base with a dunk filled night and pyrotechnics
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The 2018-19 Blue Devil basketball team is introduced to the fan base with a dunk filled night and pyrotechnics

Zion Williamson filled his mind this week with Countdown to Craziness, his introductory dance and his first night playing before a sold-out Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Yes, his name buzzed through college basketball circles for another reason after it was mentioned during a wiretapped phone conversation that surfaced during a corruption trial in New York.

But the 18-year-old Williamson, a Duke freshman phenom, professed to not giving a second thought to the situation.

“Honestly I didn’t pay no attention to it,” Williamson said. “I was just happy it was Countdown week because I’ve been very excited about it since I came on my visit last year. Countdown was everything I thought it would be.”

An athletic 6-7, 285-pound forward, Williamson scored 14 points while playing all 20 minutes in the Blue-White scrimmage. He threw down four impressive dunks, the same type that have drawn millions of viewers to his highlight reels on YouTube.

Williamson’s name was drawn into controversy on Tuesday during the trial of two former Adidas employees and an agent’s runner who are accused of arranging payments to high school prospects to send them to certain colleges.

A phone conversation between Merl Code, one of the accused men, and Kansas assistant coach Kurtis Townsend described someone close to Williamson asking for money and housing to get him to play at Kansas.

Williamson decided to play at Duke instead. The school, in the words of athletics director Kevin White and the actions of the coaches to allow Williamson to keep playing, has expressed confidence the NCAA background checks completed last summer were deep enough that there are no concerns about Williamson’s eligibility.

“We’ve done exhaustive things with the NCAA in the summer,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “They have an eligibility center now and an exhaustive process where these kids and their parents go through everything. We feel very comfortable with not only him, but all of our freshmen. We feel very comfortable with that.”

To that end, when the Cameron Indoor Stadium public address announcer introduced the player’s parents during a break in the scrimmage, Williamson’s parents were included. They smiled and waved when shown on the video board and received an ovation from the crowd.

Williamson, as Krzyzewski mentioned, isn’t the only high-profile freshman Duke is counting on this season.

R.J. Barrett, Cameron Reddish and Tre Jones are expected to join him in Duke’s starting lineup.

Here are other observations from the Countdown to Craziness Blue-White scrimmage:

Reddish playing hurt

Krzyzewski revealed in his post-scrimmage press conference that Reddish suffered a broken rib in practice Tuesday. He returned to practice on Thursday and is wearing a pad under his jersey.

He played 17 of the scrimmage’s 20 minutes, scoring 13 points on 5 of 12 shooting. He made 2 of 6 3-pointers.

“I got with the trainers and stretched it out and I thought I could play a little bit,” Reddish said. “I went best I could. Toward the end it got a little tough to move. I’m just trying to push through it right now.”

Reddish said the injury is affecting his shot “a little bit. It’s not to the point where I should air-ball it. I just don’t have the range at the moment. But I should be fine by next week.”

Duke has exhibition games on Tuesday at 7 p.m. against Virginia Union and 4 p.m. on Oct. 27 against Ferris State.

Barrett scores in bunches

Barrett teamed with Reddish on the Blue team and they were that group’s only double-digit scorers.

The smooth 6-7 Barrett scored 23 points in 20 minutes, hitting 9 of 19 shots, including 2 of 6 on 3-pointers. He also had two assists, two rebounds and a steal.

“He had to do a little bit more because of his team,” Krzyzewski said. “Cam did a good job but he isn’t where he would be. Cam has been shooting the lights out. But RJ is a winner and he is going to find ways to win. He is that positionless player.”

DeLaurier getting healthy

Junior Javin DeLaurier is the top candidate to join the freshmen in the starting lineup when Duke plays its two exhibition games next week.

The 6-10 junior was on the White team with Williamson and Tre Jones on Friday night. DeLaurier scored 10 points, making four of six shots (including two of four 3-pointers).

He missed two weeks of practice earlier this month due to a stress reaction in his foot. But he returned to practice last Monday and said Friday night he’s feeling no discomfort.

“It’s been great,” DeLaurier said. “I feel great and I’m ready for the start of the season.”