Having posted one road ACC win without national player of the year candidate Zion Williamson, No. 3 Duke is preparing to do it again.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said Monday that, while Williamson’s sprained knee is improving, he won’t play in Tuesday night’s game at No. 20 Virginia Tech.
“He’s just getting better,” Krzyzewski said. “The status of playing hasn’t changed. He’s not going to play but he’s getting better.”
The Blue Devils (24-3, 12-2 ACC) won 75-65 at Syracuse on Saturday, the first full game Williamson has missed since suffering a sprained knee 36 seconds into Duke’s 88-72 loss to North Carolina last Wednesday when his Nike shoe blew out.
Williamson accompanied the team to Syracuse and sat on the bench in street clothes. He is able to walk despite the injury without using crutches.
Krzyzewski said the 6-7, 285-pound freshmen is going through a four-step process at Duke’s sports sciences department that will determine when he’s able to return to play.
“He’s going through that,” Krzyzewski said. “When he gets through all of them, we’ll see where he’s at. There’s no timetable there. We don’t want to put the pressure of time on him. Let’s just take care of it.”
Krzyzewski wavered over whether or not to bring Williamson on the road at Syracuse since he wouldn’t be playing. But the experience went well, with the freshman cheering on his teammates, so the plan is for him to travel to Blacksburg, Va., for Tuesday’s game.
“Zion said, `Coach, I want to be with my guys,’” Krzyzewski said. “You know Tre (Jones) was with us when he was hurt. So I said, `Just be you on the bench, be you in the locker room.’ And he was.”
Krzyzewski has met with Williamson and his parents, who all indicated he intends to return and play for Duke this season. With Williamson being projected as the No. 1 pick in June’s NBA Draft, talk has arisen around the country that he should quit playing to protect himself from further injury.
But Krzyzewski said there has been no talk of such a plan between himself, Williamson and his family.
Williamson averages 21.6 points and 8.8 rebounds per game. The Blue Devils lost to UNC without him, but revamped their lineup and approach to win at Syracuse.
Fellow freshman RJ Barrett, a 6-7 forward who leads the ACC in scoring at 23.3 points per game, is also a possible No. 1 pick for the NBA and a national player of the year candidate. He scored 30 points with seven assists at Syracuse when Duke parked him in the middle of the Orange’s 2-3 zone defense to make plays.
“He influences the game in every way,” Krzyzewski said. “He’s a good a passer as we have. As good a scorer and defender and leader. With Zion being out he was placed in a role in where he was more in the middle of the zone, which he can handle and did handle. But he’s been a great player all year. As good as any player in the country all year. A high level youngster in every way.”
Sophomore guard Alex O’Connell, in his first start of the season, scored 20 points by making five of eight 3-point attempts.
While Duke won, Krzyzewski said there’s not much from the game plan at Syracuse to take into Virginia Tech (21-6, 10-5 ACC). The Hokies don’t play a 2-3 zone like the Orange do.
“You keep learning about your team,” Krzyzewski said. “I don’t think one game defines anybody positively or negatively. But our kids certainly responded great from the injury adversity and the loss to North Carolina in a short period of time to beat a good Syracuse team. I’m proud of them and we’ll continue to move along here.”