Not in the history of college basketball have we seen a sneaker blowout generate so much conversation about what a multi-talented 18-year-old player, maybe the next LeBron James, should do with his future.
Shortly after Duke’s Zion Williamson went down in the first minute of Wednesday night’s game against North Carolina, he was receiving advice from dozens, or even hundreds, of people, nearly all of whom he did not know:
Sit out the rest of the season to avoid injury and make certain you are the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft so you can clean up on lucrative endorsement deals.
Keep playing, enjoy your only year as a college basketball player, and help your team contend for a national championship.
Then there were the cries of why a talented young man and others of his ability cannot cash in on the money they are making for their schools, especially in light of the fact that tickets on the secondary market for this game were going for four figures, and in one case, according to Vivid Seats, more than $10,000.
And why shouldn’t a talented high school kid be allowed to go right to the NBA, as James and Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett did?
That’s a lot to digest, and we certainly heard and read a lot of opinions, pro and con, about all these points.
We decided to stick with the topic of should Williamson return when he gets healthy (yes), backed by these thoughts from the always outspoken Charles Barkley and Sporting News college basketball writer Mike DeCourcy.
“When did we get to the point where all people care about is money?” Barkley said Thursday night during TNT’s NBA coverage. “When did we get to the point where you’ve got clowns on television saying, ‘Oh, don’t play’? That’s what we do. We play basketball.
“I don’t ever want to see anybody get hurt — this kid looks like he’s going to be a fantastic player — but I get so mad when people act like money’s the only thing that matters in the world. ‘Oh dude, you’re going to go into the NBA. Don’t play.’ That’s ridiculous.”
Wrote DeCourcy: “Only this week, Zion told NCAA.com that he would have chosen to play in college even if the age-limit rules were not in place. Part of his burgeoning appeal as a ‘brand’ is his obvious passion for the game and affection for his teammates. ‘Shutting it down’ also would be bad business. The NCAA Tournament is a showcase that will elevate Zion’s profile to an even greater degree.
“The Duke-Zion relationship has worked beautifully for both, and the reality is that it has been far more lucrative for the player. … Into the (Duke) machine stepped a singular force of nature, Zion, who will emerge more mature, more accomplished, more marketable. That’s how college is supposed to work.”
If Williamson returns, Duke will be a major contender for a national championship with a spark from his fellow freshmen: Norristown’s Cam Reddish, and R.J. Barrett and Tre Jones.
However, the teams that will challenge the Blue Devils are loaded with veterans ready to deal with the pressure of March.
Josh Perkins and Brandon Clarke played on Gonzaga’s 2016-17 team that reached the national championship game, and leading scorer Rui Hachimura saw limited action. Virginia returned three starters and sixth man of the year DeAndre Hunter (Friends’ Central) from last year’s overall No. 1 seed, seeking to make amends for the shocking upset loss to No. 16 UMBC.
Tennessee returned its top six scorers from last season led by junior forward Grant Williams, and Nevada’s Caleb Martin, Cory Martin and Jordan Caroline put the NBA on hold for one year to return for another probable NCAA appearance.
And how about Buffalo, which returned five of its top six scorers from the team that upset Arizona in the first round last year? While the Bulls have kept winning in the Mid-American Conference and seem likely to get an at-large bid even if they don’t win the league tournament, they haven’t been dominant.
“If we want to make a run in March, we can’t keep messing around and playing teams within single digits when we’re supposed to dominate them,” coach Nate Oats said in an Associated Press story.
The Bulls responded with their most convincing win of the season, 114-67, over Ohio on Tuesday.
“Our goal is getting to that second weekend,” senior CJ Massinburg said. “We know we can get a higher seed by dominating each game out.”
From Brendan Quinn of The Athletic: Michigan and Michigan State will meet for the 182nd time Sunday on the basketball court, but only for the third time as members of the top 10.
Has anyone ever seen a league like the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference? Entering weekend action, Canisius is in first place at 9-5, followed by five (count ‘em, five) teams at 9-6: Quinnipiac, Monmouth, Rider, Siena and Iona.
Belmont’s Rick Byrd became the 12th head coach, and fifth who is still active, to win 800 career games, doing it Thursday night when the Bruins rolled to a 99-58 win over Eastern Illinois.
Former Boston College and Rhode Island coach Al Skinner, who was a college (Massachusetts) and pro (ABA New York Nets, 76ers) teammate of Julius Erving, announced he will step down as Kennesaw State’s head coach at the end of the season.
St. Francis (Pa.) guard Keith Braxton, who starred at Delsea Regional High School, has helped carry the Red Flash into first place in the Northeast Conference.
The 6-foot-5, 208-pound Braxton leads his team in scoring (16.3 points per game), rebounding (9.9) and assists (4.2). He posted his 11th double-double of the season Thursday night with 14 points and 10 rebounds in a win over St. Francis of Brooklyn.
Tennessee at Louisiana State, Saturday at noon, ESPN: The Volunteers are in a mini-slump on offense, averaging 63.5 points in their last two games. The Tigers blew a chance to enter this game in a tie for first with the Vols in the SEC by losing to Florida, their second home loss in the last six games.
Duke at Syracuse, Saturday at 6 p.m., ESPN: Two developments in recent days have stilled the pregame hype: Orange coach Jim Boeheim allegedly striking and killing a man with his car along a Syracuse highway, and Blue Devils star Zion Williamson suffering a sprained right knee and likely out.
BYU at Gonzaga, Saturday at 10 p.m., ESPN: The second-ranked Bulldogs have clinched their seventh straight West Coast Conference title, defeating all 13 league opponents by an average of 28 points. The second-place Cougars lost to the Zags by 30 points in their first meeting.
Michigan State at Michigan, Sunday at 3:45 p.m., CBS3: After 16 Big Ten games, these rivals meet for the first time this season, and do so in a tie for the lead in the conference. The point-guard battle between the Spartans’ Cassius Winston and the Wolverines’ Zavier Simpson will be one to watch.
Kansas State at Kansas, Monday at 9 p.m., ESPN: The Wildcats, who enter the weekend with a one-game lead in the Big 12 race, are looking for the season sweep over the Jayhawks. A loss would leave Kansas, seeking its 15th consecutive regular-season title, two games down with three to play.
Rui Hachimura, Gonzaga, F, 6-8, 230, Jr., Toyama, Japan
Hachimura, the fifth Japanese-born player to compete in Division I college basketball, is the leading scorer at 20.4 points per game for a Bulldogs team that could rise to No. 1 in the nation next week.