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Why Duke’s Zion Williamson is ‘unlike anything that anyone has ever seen’

Duke co-captains talk about freshman Zion Williamson

Duke will test out their freshmen laden squad as they open the regular season against perennial power Kentucky Tuesday night
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Duke will test out their freshmen laden squad as they open the regular season against perennial power Kentucky Tuesday night

Duke co-captains Javin DeLaurier and Jack White spent part of a Friday media availability delving into two topics, the Blue Devils’ basketball season opener Tuesday against Kentucky and the basketball freakishness of freshman Zion Williamson.

The Kentucky discussion was the standard opener stuff: new team, exciting time, big stage, big-name opponent, Duke vs. Kentucky again ... the usual. It’s in the Champions Classic in Indianapolis, with a 9:30 p.m. tipoff Tuesday after the Kansas-Michigan State game.

“It’s the country’s first look at us,” DeLaurier said.

There’s a lot to look at for the fourth-ranked Blue Devils. There’s RJ Barrett, the ultra-versatile 6-7 forward who has been named to the AP Preseason All-America team. There’s 6-8 forward Cam Reddish, guard Tre Jones and 6-7 forward Joey Baker. All freshmen.

And that man Williamson.

“I’ve never seen anyone like Zion,” DeLaurier said. “I think one of our athletic trainers put it the best. He said all you guys hit the genetic lottery but Zion hit it twice.

“I think that’s a pretty good way to describe him. When you look at him he’s 6-7, 270 pounds, all muscle and can just fly through the air. It’s somewhat unlike anything that anyone has ever seen. He’s amazing.”

So how to guard him? DeLaurier laughed.

“You know, it’s hard, definitely a challenge,” said the 6-10, 234-pound junior. “And I don’t want to give too much away in case people start scouting us. I’ll keep those tricks to myself.”

White didn’t, though.

“The guy is such a unique, incredible athlete,” said White, a 6-7, 222-pound junior from Australia. “I know he loves his left hand and I know he’s better at getting to the rack than shooting 3s or pulling up. I’ll live with long contested 2s or hand in his face if he’s shooting a 3, and if he tries to go to the block try to keep him to his right hand and try and draw him into some (defensive) help. And if he comes back to his left we’ll probably have somebody there like a big, just body up and try to make it a contested short shot.

“In saying that, sometimes you do all the right things and he’s just going to jump right over you. He’s just an incredible talent. He just turned 18. To be doing that at that age, with that body control ... He’s got that LeBron (James) kind of movement, that jumping and dunking ability. “

RAL_DUKEFERRIS1SP102718CEL.JPG
Duke’s Zion Williamson forward (1) goes in for a breakaway dunk in the first half of play as Ferris State Greg Williams (15) looks on. Duke played an exhibition against Ferris State at Cameron Indoor Stadium In Durham, N.C. Saturday, October 27, 2018. Chuck Liddy cliddy@newsobserver.com

Williamson was dominant in the Blue Devils’ three exhibition games during the Canada Tour in August, averaging 29.7 points and 11.3 rebounds, scoring 36 points against McGill.

Williamson had 29 points against Virginia Union in an exhibition game on Oct. 23 and another double-double with 23 points and 10 rebounds as the No. 4 Blue Devils smacked Ferris State 132-48 a week ago in their final exhibition at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Barrett had 32 points and Cam Reddish 20 against Ferris State while freshman guard Tre Jones had 10 assists, eight points and nine rebounds.

“Zion, when he was little, and I know it’s hard to believe that he was little, he was a point guard,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said after the game. “He really understands the game and he’s got a good handle. Putting the ball in his hands is a smart thing to do.”

In looking to the game against No. 2 Kentucky, White said the most important thing for Duke would be getting the big defensive stops, and especially those that lead to points in transition.

Interview with Duke freshman basketball player Zion Williamson. He discusses his role on the team along with fellow freshmen stars R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish. Also his reaction to being mentioned in the college basketball corruption trial.

“With our size and length and athleticism we can really cause a lot of problems for teams,” White said.

ESPN has put Duke and Kentucky together this season, always good for ratings and a tremendous matchup. No Elon and Utah Valley warmups for the Blue Devils this year.

“It’s a good challenge for the guys,” White said. “The freshmen have been on stages like that before in their careers in high school. A lot of the guys on our team are just gamers. They love that environment. They love stepping up on the big stage.”

And win or lose, just one game.

“It think it’s a good way to see where we are,” DeLaurier said. “At the same time, you don’t win championships in November.”

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No. 4 Duke vs. No. 2 Kentucky

When: 9:30 p.m., Tuesday

What: Champions Classic in Indianapolis

TV: ESPN

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