NEW YORK (AP) — Zion Williamson smiled his way through nearly half an hour of questions, trying to portray himself like any player just hoping to be drafted.
Suddenly, a tall, thin newcomer pushed his way to the front of the shoulder-to-shoulder swarm surrounding Williamson and shot down that idea.
“What does it feel like,” Duke teammate RJ Barrett asked, “to be the best prospect since LeBron James?”
Williamson has similar hype. Soon, he can start showing if he has the game to match.
The power forward will almost certainly be doing it in the uniform of the New Orleans Pelicans, who hold the No. 1 pick Thursday night at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
NBA teams are discouraged from announcing who they will pick, and the Pelicans confirmed nothing to Williamson when he visited recently.
“They just told me that maybe they’ll draft me and I’m a good player or something,” Williamson said.
It would be one of the biggest surprises anyone in the NBA conjured up in years if the Pelicans passed on a player whose combination of size, speed and skill calls to mind James and few others.
Listed at 6-foot-7 and 285 pounds, Williamson averaged 22.6 points and 8.9 rebounds while shooting 68% from the field and joining Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis as the only freshmen to be voted national player of the year by The Associated Press.
His sledgehammer slams were good for college, but Williamson wants to be known for more than his above-the-rim game in the pros. In fact, he isn’t eager to take part in the Slam Dunk Contest.
Instead, he’s been improving his 3-point shot, and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski noted that Williamson was previously a perimeter player before bulking up and becoming a force around the basket.
“He’s still only 18 years old,” Krzyzewski said on his SiriusXM radio show. “And as good of an athlete — he’s a top percentile athlete in the world, not just in the game of basketball. He’s that level of young man.”