Imagine if Michael Maddox let D.J. Burns borrow his jersey.
Chants of “We want Zion” rained down on the Colonial Life Arena floor Sunday during South Carolina’s exhibition game against Virginia Tech. Gamecock Nation was in full force, trying to persuade five-star forward Zion Williamson to come to USC.
But, as has been duly noted, fans confused the prospect sitting behind South Carolina’s bench for the Spartanburg Day star, when actually it was Burns, a 2019 recruit from Rock Hill.
The cheer alone – though going toward the wrong player – was enough to confirm that Columbia remains on board with Carolina’s quest for Williamson.
Maddox very much included.
The USC senior is a lifetime Gamecocks basketball follower. He attended both exhibition games last week, sitting courtside and rocking his recent purchase from a Chinese website.
“I had to have it customized,” Maddox said with a grin.
It’s a black basketball jersey with garnet and white trim. “CAROLINA” is across the front. “Z. WILLIAMSON” is across the back. The number is 12, matching the digits of the YouTube sensation who averaged 36 points and 13 rebounds last season for the Griffins.
Williamson, a 6-foot-6, 272-pound phenom, is the No. 2 rated recruit in the 2018 class. The basketball early signing period begins Wednesday and ends Nov. 15. The next signing period begins April 11 and ends May 16.
Williamson has taken official visits to Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and North Carolina. He’s made unofficials to USC and Clemson. There’s mystery surrounding his next move. He could sign this week. He could wait until the spring.
Maddox will be closely monitoring the process.
“Oh, for sure,” Maddox said prior to the Gamecocks’ 86-67 loss to the Hokies, “this is a big deal.”
Chances that Williamson spends his presumed one year of college at USC are slim – “Crystal Ball” predictions from 247Sports have Kentucky as the favorite followed by Kansas – but Maddox is still crossing his fingers. He said he’s been watching Williamson for two years and, like others, has been awed by his raw power and athleticism.
The recruiting pitch? Hey, CLA has rims you can bend and backboards you can shatter.
“Stay home, Zion,” Maddox said. “We made the Final Four, we got national relevance. You can get drafted here, you can go to the NBA, so just stay home for a year.
“You’re never going to be able to play in the NBA in South Carolina, so just stay home for a year and let everybody just love on you and watch you and do it for your fans.”
Maddox’s efforts have at least been recognized by Williamson. When a picture of Maddox in his No. 12 jersey surfaced on Twitter last Monday, Williamson retweeted it to his 84,000 followers.
The sliver of hope still exists.
“I think it’s kind of a longshot,” Maddox said, “but we’ll see. It would be awesome if he comes here. That would be right up there with making the Final Four.”
The Gamecocks will be in Williamson’s hometown Friday when they open the 2017-18 season at Wofford.