Zion Williamson — the most-hyped basketball recruit in the country — tipped off his final high school season Tuesday night in Asheville, N.C.
The 6-foot-6 forward posted 45 points and 15 rebounds, but his Spartanburg Day (S.C.) squad lost, 70-62, to a Christ School (N.C.) team that features a few Division I prospects.
South Carolina’s Frank Martin, one of the six head coaches still recruiting Williamson, was at the game with two assistants. North Carolina’s Roy Williams visited with Williamson earlier in the day at his high school, and Kentucky coaches were expected to see him Wednesday.
National recruiting analyst Andrew Slater was also at Williamson’s season opener, and — a few hours after the game had ended — Slater logged a Crystal Ball prediction in favor of Clemson for the No. 2 senior in the 247Sports composite rankings.
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“I have been thinking Clemson for about a month or so,” Slater told the Herald-Leader on Wednesday. “And there is definitely a lot of buzz that he wants to stay in state — that he’s very comfortable with it. Clemson has done a great job with him. As has Frank Martin, who showed up three-deep last night.
“They both understand the impact, potentially, of getting someone like Zion Williamson as part of their respective programs.”
It should be noted that Slater is the top-ranked recruiting analyst in the 247Sports Crystal Ball standings.
Clemson — located about 60 miles from Williamson’s hometown — represents the closest option on a recruiting list that also includes UK, Duke, Kansas, North Carolina and South Carolina. Williamson’s stepfather, Lee Anderson, is a former Tigers basketball player, and Coach Brad Brownell has, understandably, made Williamson the highest of recruiting priorities in this 2018 class.
Slater’s prediction led to more pro-Clemson picks Wednesday, and the Tigers are making a move to overtake Kentucky on Williamson’s Crystal Ball page. The Wildcats have been the favorites there for a couple of months now, but analysts have noted in recent weeks how tough Williamson’s recruitment has been to handicap. And there’s been plenty of pro-Clemson buzz throughout the fall.
“I think Kentucky definitely has a chance,” Slater said Wednesday. “I don’t think it’s a done deal. But I do think Clemson is the leader.”
On the court, Williamson showed Tuesday night why he’s such a coveted prospect.
The 17-year-old made headlines last month when he was measured at a USA Basketball minicamp at 6-5 (without shoes) and 272 pounds, a much higher weight than what he had been typically listed at. That showed no signs of slowing him down Tuesday night, apparently.
“I thought he played very well,” Slater said. “He looks like he’s in a little better shape than had been reported at USA Basketball. Once again though, unfortunately, he has to be the man, effectively, for that Spartanburg Day team.
“He’s trying to work on his overall skill set — his perimeter skill set — because I think he ultimately wants to be a ‘3’ man at the next level or at the level beyond that. As opposed to being pigeonholed as a small-ball ‘4’. But they needed him inside as well toward the end of the game, and he was willing to do it.”
Slater noted that Williamson was able to use his athleticism and brute force to grab rebounds over much taller players “like it was nothing,” and his 45 points speak to how effective he was offensively.
The debate over Williamson’s position at the next level — and, beyond that, the NBA — has been a hot topic in recruiting circles in recent years. Will he be able to develop the perimeter skills necessary to play away from the basket in college? Even if he does, will his unique blend of strength, skill and athleticism be better suited around the rim against college opposition?
“I think it really depends on where he goes. And maybe that’s part of the discussion as to why he will pick wherever he picks,” Slater said. “But I think, ultimately, he’ll be a Draymond Green-type of player. He’s a very good passer. People don’t always notice it because of the teams that he’s on, but he actually does see the court very well.
“He’s a very efficient shooter. He doesn’t take a lot of bad shots. Detractors will mention, ‘Well, he’s not a good three-point shooter. He doesn’t take a lot of threes.’ He really doesn’t force a lot of threes, either. For a kid his age, he has a very good sense of what is a good shot and what is a bad shot.”
Wednesday was the final day of the early signing period, and Williamson will wait until April to officially sign with a college. He could commit to a school any time between now and then, however, and there is no set date for his college announcement.