Zion Williamson embracing spotlight, recruiting process
It’s becoming a familiar scene at Spartanburg Day’s gymnasium.
About 10 minutes before practice is scheduled to begin, members of the basketball team start setting up chairs on the right side for that night’s visitors and guests to watch the one-hour workout.
On this particular night, it was Duke Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski and his three assistant coaches. They were joined by assistants from Louisville, North Carolina State and Georgetown.
All were there getting a closer look at junior Zion Williamson, one of the nation’s top prospects in the Class of 2018, and one of the most highly touted prospects to come out of South Carolina in a while.
Krzyzewski and his staff met with Williamson and his parents for an hour before the workout, then posed for photos with family and coaches before leaving. Other coaches made their pitch following the workout.
This week, it was South Carolina coach Frank Martin and North Carolina coach Roy Williams descending on the tiny private school (450 students, K-12). Williamson has racked up more than 20 offers, and is rated a five-star recruit by all of the major recruiting services.
“I enjoy the attention, because some kids don’t get a chance to have the opportunities I have. This is the life I chose, so you have to embrace it,” Williamson said. “I’m just honored that these coaches took the time from their schedules and come to watch me for a little workout. My freshman year, I didn’t think I would be able to accomplish what I have accomplished now. I am just honored and blessed. The key is to never stop working. Hard work has gotten me to where I am now. And if I continue, I will just keep getting better.”
Williamson is in no hurry to make a decision about his college choice. He said he’ll trim his list during the summer and sign in the early period in November of 2017.
In-state schools South Carolina and Clemson remain heavily in the mix for Williamson, whose father Lee Anderson began his playing career at Clemson. He took in the Clemson-Louisville football game on Saturday, and will be at South Carolina for the USC-Georgia game.
“I think about staying in-state a lot and staying in-state doesn’t sound bad, but I’ve still got to choose the best school that fits me, so I am enjoying the process,” Williamson said.
His parents said they’ll respect any decision.
“Every kid grew up Duke and UNC fans, but we want him to go where he is comfortable and going to be a good fit,” Williamson’s mother Sharonda Sampson said. “We don’t have any preferences. If it is in-state, we are behind him 100 percent, and if it is out of state, we are behind him 100 percent.”
Sampson, a former track athlete in college, said she isn’t surprised about the attention her son is receiving. Williamson always has been into sports, starting with soccer and then playing quarterback in football before concentrating on basketball. She named her son after Mount Zion in the Bible, which is one of the biggest mountains in Jerusalem.
Now, Williamson is one of the biggest prospects in the nation.
“When I was pregnant, my grandmother kept telling me he is going to be extra special, so when you go look for a name for him, look for something extra special,” Sampson said. “Flipping through the Bible and Zion just caught me. Now, he is so big he looks like a Mount Zion.”
As a sophomore, Williamson averaged 28.3 points, 10.4 rebounds, 3.9 blocks, 2.7 steals and 2.5 assists to lead Spartanburg Day to its first SCISA 2A state championship.
During the summer, the 6-foot-7, 220-pound Williamson’s stock grew after his performance on the Adidas summer circuit and at some high-profile camps. He was named the MVP at the NBA Top 100 Camp in Charlottesville, Va. He scored 20 points with six rebounds in 26 minutes in one of the games.
Williamson moved up to the No. 1 prospect in 247Sports overall, and sixth in their composite rankings. Rivals ranks Williamson at No. 2 and ESPN has him at No. 3 for the Class of 2018.
Williamson capped his summer with an impressive showing at the Under Armour Elite 24 at The Pier in Brookyln, N.Y. Williamson won the slam dunk contest and took home one of the MVP honors in the nationally televised event. He scored 23 points on 10-of-10 shooting from the floor.
“The New York environment there is nothing like it,” Williamson said.
At the Elite 24, Williamson roomed with Jalek Felton, the state’s top prospect from 2017 and North Carolina commit. The two knew each other from their time in the Pee Dee of South Carolina. Williamson was born in Florence and attended school there and later in Marion where Sampson was a teacher before moving to Spartanburg.
Felton played a majority of his high school basketball in Mullins before transferring to Gray Collegiate for his senior year.
“Totally different dude,” Felton said of Williamson. “In sixth grade, he couldn’t dunk or shoot. He did a 180, and is a much better player. He is the next LeBron James.”
It will be hard for anyone to duplicate James, but one thing the two have in common is their versatility. Despite Williamson’s 6-7 frame, he can play anything from point guard to power forward. Williamson said one area he wants to improve is his outside shot.
Rivals recruiting analyst Eric Bossi projects Williamson as a small forward in college, but knows that might change if Williamson continues to get bigger. He has grown eight inches since eighth grade.
“I can’t imagine him another year of maturity under him. He is getting stronger and more explosive,” Bossi said.
“He is a big kid, but can handle the ball like a guard and makes decisions on the perimeter like a guard,” Spartanburg Day coach Lee Sartor said. “At the same time, he is so powerful and gifted that he can score when he wants to.
“He has worked hard to get to this point and is in the gym all the time to work on his skills. You look at the smile and his approach and the game of basketball.”
Williamson’s smile stands out almost as much as his highlight reel dunks and passes. He is very engaging personality and loves interacting with his teammates and classmates at school. Sampson said her son always has been a happy go-lucky kid, even when she is getting on him to do his chores at home.
But on the court, Williamson is all business.
“I will smile if I make a good pass or my teammate does something,” Williamson said. “But most of the time, you are going to see me with a straight face on the court.”
Top 10 in nation
A look at the top 10 players in the nation in the basketball recruiting class for 2018, according to the 247Sports Composite ranking that factors in all networks:
1. Marvin Bagley
2. Romeo Langford
New Albany, Ind.
3. Cameron Reddish
4. Jordan Brown
5. Silvio De Sousa
6. Zion Williamson
7. Gerald Liddell
8. Nazreon Reid
9. Khavin Moore
10. Simisola Shittu