Luke DeCock

All eyes remain on Zion Williamson, who continues to be worth watching

Duke’s Zion Williamson breaks down blocking shots and lobs to teammate R.J. Barrett

Duke freshman phenom Zion Williamson talks about a variety of things after leading the Blue Devils to win over Indiana
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Duke freshman phenom Zion Williamson talks about a variety of things after leading the Blue Devils to win over Indiana

It’s not quite “Frank Sinatra has a cold” but “Zion Williamson has a cramp” is close when it comes to shaking the foundations of the known world. As Duke toyed with Indiana late in the second half Tuesday, Williamson sat on the bench getting his quads worked with a roller by Duke trainer Jose Fonseca. The game was going on, but everyone was still watching Williamson.

It was only fair. All game long, if you took your eyes off Williamson, you might miss something. It might be considered fair warning, at this point, to say that all season long.

Indiana made the less-than-discrete mistake of passing the ball lazily back and forth at midcourt, within Williamson’s reach. He darted into the passing lane and crossed halfcourt as everyone on the court, everyone in the building, everyone watching on television waited to see what would happen next.

“For me, I tipped it, and when I saw the ball bouncing, I knew I was going to get it,” Williamson said. “So I looked back and they just stopped running, so I decided to give the Crazies something to cheer for.”

Do you think they stopped running because they wanted to see what you were going to do?

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Duke forward Zion Williamson (1) reacts after a second half dunk as Duke defeated Indiana 90-69 at Cameron Indoor Stadium In Durham, N.C. Tuesday, November 27, 2018. Chuck Liddy cliddy@newsobserver.com

“Maybe,” Williamson said, and laughed the laugh of a man who knows how to draw a crowd.

They were rewarded for their attention with a high-flying windmill dunk, a highlight that still ranked as Williamson’s best of the night despite an above-the-rim alley-oop in the second half, the single most memorable moment of Duke’s 90-69 win over the Hoosiers, the largest margin of victory in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge so far.

The dunks were all everybody could talk about afterward, but the most significant play of the game – the one that harbored the most meaning for Duke’s future – passed more quietly. After the end of the Gonzaga loss, when Williamson watched R.J. Barrett try (and fail) to beat the Zags all on his lonesome, there was a distinctly different plan when Duke found itself in a similar situation.

When Duke was holding for a final shot at the end of the first half, Barrett had the ball in his hands. The result even then was not in doubt. But Mike Krzyzewski gestured for Williamson to get the ball, and he went one way, spun back to the other, leaned toward the bucket and laid the ball into the basket, successfully navigating the Indiana defense like a speedboat dodging buoys.

It was all part of a more concerted effort to get the ball into Williamson’s hands, and Indiana was in no position to defend him in the post. He had six dunks, as is his wont, but the spins and drop steps for lay-ins accounted for as many of his game-high 25 points. The variety to his game was as quietly spectacular as his dunks were loud.

“I know what he can do, so I’m excited about what he is going to do,” Krzyzewski said. “After the trip, we’ve done some things to get him the ball more. That’s just the evolution of your team. So we were able to do that tonight, including at the end of the half, we were able to do a 4-5 ball screen. He’ll keep getting the ball.”

Williamson later threw a lob to Barrett for a dunk of his own, and was asked afterward who throws better lobs, himself or Barrett, this being a team that has plenty of practice at it.

“See, that’s a trick question. I throw better lobs, but people will say he throws them better, because of the way I finish them. The finish will look better. But I think my pass is better. He knows I’m joking, he knows I’m joking.”

Are you, though?

“Not really,” Williamson said with a broad smile, before breaking into laughter again.

It was just that kind of night, where he was dunking on everybody.

Sports columnist Luke DeCock has covered the Summer Olympics, the Final Four, the Super Bowl and the Carolina Hurricanes’ Stanley Cup. He joined The News & Observer in 2000 to cover the Hurricanes and the NHL before becoming a columnist in 2008. A native of Evanston, Ill., he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and has won multiple national and state awards for his columns and feature writing while twice being named North Carolina Sportswriter of the Year.
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