The plan Tuesday was to touch base with the five national recruiting analysts that have made up the Herald-Leader’s “expert panel” in recent weeks and ask them to handicap the recruitment of Zion Williamson.
The early signing period for college basketball begins Wednesday, and Williamson — arguably UK’s top remaining target in the 2018 class — could make a college decision before it closes on Nov. 15.
The plan hit a snag.
Scout.com recruiting guru Evan Daniels summed it up in a sentence.
“Literally no one knows,” Daniels told the Herald-Leader on Tuesday afternoon.
Another national recruiting analyst said that Williamson’s recruitment might be the most difficult he’s had to forecast in recent years. Yet another added that all of the chatter behind the scenes at this point isn’t much more than hearsay.
The 6-foot-6 small forward from Spartanburg, S.C., could very well make a college announcement sometime in the next week, but he hasn’t committed to that timetable. As far as a school choice, his commitment is anybody’s guess.
What is known: Williamson — the No. 2 recruit in the 247Sports composite rankings for the class of 2018 — has narrowed his list to Kentucky, Clemson, Duke, Kansas, North Carolina and South Carolina, and he’s taken recruiting visits to all six schools this fall.
Four of those trips — to out-of-state UK, Duke, Kansas and UNC — have been official visits, and there’s a chance he could take his fifth and final official visit to Clemson this weekend. Usually, when a high school recruit gets all of his visits out of the way before the end of the early signing period, it means he’s going to sign early.
In Williamson’s case, we just don’t know yet.
Here’s what we do know about his interest in each school, along with some buzz on where each program might currently stand in his recruitment:
Had we not pulled the plug on the “expert panel” this week, it looked like UK was going to end up in the No. 1 spot as the most likely team to land Williamson’s commitment. The margin was going to be slim, though, and — as stated above — based on more guesswork than anything.
UK’s coaches have obviously made Williamson a major priority in this class. The Cats’ lone commitment going into the early signing period — five-star point guard Immanuel Quickley — is a close friend of Williamson’s, and the two players have talked often about teaming up in college. By all accounts, Williamson enjoyed his official visit to Lexington for last month’s Big Blue Madness weekend, basking in the attention from the fans and proving himself to be a good fit for the UK spotlight.
To be clear, there are still many in recruiting circles who believe Williamson ultimately ends up at Kentucky, but the confidence level on that seems to have dropped somewhat in recent weeks.
To the surprise of some, the Tigers were the No. 2 choice when we asked our expert panel to handicap Williamson’s recruitment back in September, before he started his tour of official visits.
Had we followed through on this week’s expert panel, Clemson likely would have stayed in that No. 2 position (possibly with more than one No. 1 vote).
Coach Brad Brownell has made the task of keeping Williamson close to home the No. 1 recruiting priority for the Tigers in this recruiting cycle. He hosted the star player for an unofficial visit centered on the Clemson-Auburn football game at the beginning of the fall, and he could get Williamson back on campus for an official visit this weekend.
Staying close to home — Clemson is 60 miles from Spartanburg — has been mentioned in recruiting circles as a factor in Williamson’s decision. His stepfather, Lee Anderson, is a former Clemson player and has played a big role in Williamson’s recruitment. (Anderson has also said in past interviews that the final decision will be Williamson’s to make).
It seems crazy to picture a scenario where Clemson could beat out Kentucky for the Cats’ No. 1 basketball target, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if that happens in this case. Getting Williamson back on campus this weekend could be huge for the Tigers.
The Blue Devils were also mentioned (somewhat) prominently in the Herald-Leader’s discussions with recruiting insiders this week, and they likely would have come in at No. 3 in an official ranking by the expert panel.
Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski has told Williamson that he would play him in the same way he played LeBron James at the Olympics, and that pitch obviously left an impression on the 17-year-old recruit.
The Blue Devils also already have commitments from No. 1 point guard Tre Jones, top-five national recruit Cam Reddish and could land No. 1 overall recruit R.J. Barrett when he makes a college announcement Friday evening. Adding Williamson to that bunch would clinch the No. 1 class for Duke, which will likely be looking to reload again after a 2017-18 season that should yield several more NBA Draft picks.
All of that said, some of those who have been talking up Duke as a major player for Williamson have backed off of that stance a tad in recent days.
UK and Clemson seemed to be getting a little more buzz, as of Tuesday night.
The Jayhawks exited the summer as the slight favorite on Williamson’s 247Sports Crystal Ball page and were viewed as a program to be feared in his recruitment.
Kansas has the Adidas connection — that’s the circuit Williamson played on during the summer — and the Jayhawks’ coaching staff has spent a lot of time in South Carolina recruiting him. Williamson also ended up taking his first official visit to Lawrence.
Bill Self was in Spartanburg to see Williamson last week, but there just isn’t the same amount of buzz surrounding Kansas now that there was earlier this fall. The uncertain nature of this recruitment means you can’t rule out the Jayhawks, but they no longer appear to be in the top tier of possibilities.
Two weekends ago, Williamson was scheduled to take an official visit to UCLA. Instead, he cancelled that trip, cut the Bruins from his list and showed up for an official visit to Chapel Hill instead. A few days later, Roy Williams followed that up by visiting Williamson in South Carolina.
The Tar Heels have always been on Williamson’s list — and the UNC staff has seriously pursued Williamson throughout the recruitment — but there was never really anything to indicate the Heels had as good a shot to land him as UK, Duke, Kansas or the in-state schools. Now, UNC has a little more momentum in this recruitment, though there’s still been nothing to indicate they should be considered one of the frontrunners just yet.
Going into the early signing period, the Gamecocks appear to be — and keep in mind how uncertain this recruitment is — the least likely program to land Williamson.
He was expected to be in Columbia on Sunday to see South Carolina play in its final exhibition game. He didn’t make that trip (and the Gamecocks’ fans chanted “We Want Zion” at the wrong recruit).
Williamson has visited South Carolina for a football game this fall, but it appears more likely that he’ll end up at Clemson if he decides to stay close to home and pick an in-state school.