Nobody saw this coming.
When he decided to spurn his hometown schools of Clemson and South Carolina and commit to Duke on Saturday evening, Zion Williamson stunned the basketball world… and gave Duke each of the top three players in the class of 2018.
The Blue Devils were thought to be outsiders to get Williamson, particularly given that all signs pointed to the All-American and YouTube sensation staying in-state to play for the Clemson Tigers. But in his announcement, Williamson explained that the concept of “The Brotherhood”–which is an idea that Duke Basketball and coach Mike Krzyzewski have persistently marketed in recent years–proved to be the decisive factor.
Williamson’s shocking announcement means that the Blue Devils have secured all three top-ranked players in the ESPN 100 rankings after R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish committed to Duke earlier this winter. The dynamism of each player provides tons of intrigue for next year’s roster, particularly given that Duke may have some holdovers from the current freshman class that decide to come back to school next year (i.e. Alex O’Connell, Gary Trent Jr. and possibly even Trevon Duval).
Duke should have the most versatile frontcourt in the country next year. Reddish and Barrett are both long (at 6’7″) and versatile small forwards that can shoot off the dribble and create space for themselves.
WIlliamson’s skill set is hard to miss given his frequent appearances on SportsCenter and YouTube highlight films. But the 6’6,” 272-pound power forward is more than just a dunker. In fact, Williamson has drawn comparisons to guys like Julius Randle for his passing and ball handling abilities, and his combination of size and ridiculous athleticism should make him an almost unparalleled force in college basketball next season.
Of course, this does not mean that Duke will simply walk over teams. The Blue Devils have had the number one recruiting class in each of the last two years, but they failed to make it past the second round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament and have already suffered two shocking losses in ACC play. It takes time for young players to gel together and gain chemistry on the floor, and the same will likely apply to Barrett, Williamson and Reddish when they head to Durham this fall.
That being said, Williamson’s commitment to Duke makes the Blue Devils a scary team for college hoops opponents next season, and perhaps cinches Mike Krzyzewski’s position as the greatest recruiter in college basketball history.
The Blue Devils may even win a national title in 2018, but the hype for 2019 is well underway.