Sports

On eve of the NBA draft, Zion Williamson tells GMA he isn’t playing ‘for the money’

Duke’s Zion Williamson (1) smiles during a media availability in the locker room before Duke’s practice in Washington, D.C., Thursday, March 28, 2019. The Blue Devils will face Virginia Tech in a Sweet 16 game in the Division I NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Friday.
Duke’s Zion Williamson (1) smiles during a media availability in the locker room before Duke’s practice in Washington, D.C., Thursday, March 28, 2019. The Blue Devils will face Virginia Tech in a Sweet 16 game in the Division I NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Friday. ehyman@newsobserver.com

Former Duke standout Zion Williamson said “I just want to hoop” on television talk show Good Morning America Wednesday morning.

The 6-7, 280-pound forward is projected to be the No. 1 pick in Thursday’s NBA draft — a pick that belongs to the New Orleans Pelicans. And, with those words, he affirms that he wouldn’t mind playing in New Orleans next season.

There was brief speculation from the outside that Williamson might not want to join the Pelicans, considering the franchise didn’t make the playoffs and isn’t in a large NBA market.

But Williamson shot down this speculation again this morning: “It’s crazy, honestly, you know. I never saw myself as being a top-3 pick, top-4 pick and for people to think that I could go (first), it means a lot to me,” Williamson said on the show. “It’s showing that my hard work is paying off, but I just want to get drafted, period.”

Also on the show, Williamson told host Robin Roberts about his beginning relationship with basketball, including when his mother was his first coach.

The New Orleans Pelicans won the rights to the first pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. It is widely believed the team will select Duke superstar Zion Williamson.

“I stand by this until this day: (My mother) was the toughest coach I ever had,” Williamson said with a smile. “Don’t let that ‘mom’ word fool y’all ... Her being my biggest critic was the best thing for me, actually.”

In the interview, Williamson explained how he stays grounded amidst his incredible hype.

“There were times when this wasn’t here,” Williamson said. “There were no interviews. There were no fans. The gym was empty. Actually, it wasn’t even a gym, it was an outdoor court and it was just me and my stepdad. So, I just think back to those times.”

He also said that he isn’t motivated by money.

“I don’t play basketball for the money; it was the last thing I thought of when I was a little kid,” he said. “When I was a little kid, I looked at my mom, stepdad and said, ‘I want to be an NBA player,’ just because I love to play the game of basketball like 24/7.”

Zion Williamson weighs in on whether he would still play for Duke if the one-and-done rule didn't exist, and he talks about the difference between playing in college and the NBA.

In 33 games played in college, Williamson averaged 8.9 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and 22.6 points per game. And come Thursday, he’ll achieve his life-long dream of making it to the sport’s most prestigious stage.

“I don’t see it as much as my life changing,” Williamson said. “I’m going to still be playing the game I love. I feel like with the circle I have around me, they’ll keep it the same as it’s always been, just probably more people calling my name.”

Watch a time-lapse as Duke's Zion Williamson celebrates as teammate RJ Barrett slams in two during the Blue Devils' victory over North Dakota State in the first round of the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship in Columbia, SC Friday, March 22, 2019.

2019 NBA draft

When: 7 p.m., Thursday

Where: Barclays Center, New York

TV: ESPN

Spartanburg Day senior Zion Williamson picks the Duke Blue Devils giving Coach K the top three high school recruits in 2018.

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Alex is an intern at The News and Observer, covering sports and however it intersects with life in the Triangle. Before that, Alex graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in May and was a three-year staffer on UNC’s student newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel.

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