- Zion Williamson is off to the NBA, which means it's time to look back on his top moments from a wild year in Durham.
Zion Williamson declared for the NBA draft on Monday, which shouldn't come as a surprise to a single college basketball fan. We knew, or claimed to know, the plan immediately after Zion arrived on campus: Play one year at Duke, appear on SportsCenter after every game, make a deep run in March and have some fun—a lot of it. Who knows, maybe even win a national title.
Well, the last box went unchecked, but there are unequivocal check marks in the other three boxes.
It’s fair to say most players don’t have as many moments in four years as Zion did in his lone season in Durham. From massive blocks to the 360 dunk that took over social media, the legend of Zion only continued to grow after a 34-point beatdown of Kentucky in the season opener. Oh yeah, and the shoe. Who could forget the poor Nike Paul George 2.5’s that simply couldn’t withstand Zion’s 285-pound frame?
Now that Zion’s college career is officially over, he is expected to go No. 1 in this year’s NBA draft, barring a hiccup from whichever team that snags the top pick.
For now, though, let’s relive the top college moments from the walking highlight.
1. The Infamous Sneakers
The stage was set for the biggest matchup of the regular season: No. 1 Duke vs. No. 8 North Carolina at Cameron Indoor on national television. This was the textbook definition of must-see TV. With President Obama in the front row wearing that slick ‘44’ bomber jacket, Spike Lee sporting a New York Knicks hoodie and millions more watching at home, Durham, N.C. appeared to be the center of the universe––for roughly 30 seconds.
Moments after winning the tip, Zion caught the ball at the wing, took a couple dribbles toward to free throw line, turned his back to the basket and planted his left foot. Then Cameron Indoor fell silent. Zion’s foot ripped through his Paul George 2.5’s, causing him to fall to the court, holding his knee in pain.
Williamson was diagnosed with a Grade 1 right knee sprain, causing him to miss the last six games of the season—a stretch which led to three Duke losses, including two against the Tar Heels.
2. The Block vs. Virginia
Virginia was five minutes away from dropping a second-consecutive game to the Blue Devils, this time at home. If the Cavaliers didn’t feel it slipping away yet, Zion made sure they felt it at the 4:38 mark. With Zion guarding him at the hip, Virginia’s Kyle Guy took a pick from forward Jay Huff before firing the ball past Zion’s fingertips and into the hands of Huff who was rolling to the basket.
The perfectly drawn play left De’Andre Hunter in the corner for what should have been a wide-open three. Zion, who was still in the paint when Hunter caught the ball, appeared to be out of the play with no other Duke player in the vicinity.
Then Zion happened. A low pass allowed Williamson to take one stride out of the paint, and gather himself for takeoff before launching into the air to swat the 6’7’’ guard’s shot.
3. The 360 Dunk vs. Clemson
Thanks to Twitter and Ballislife videos, anybody with access to the internet was aware of Zion’s ability to dunk a basketball well before he arrived at Duke. But nothing could have prepared us for the dunk he pulled out in the second half of a blowout victory against Clemson.
With Duke pulling away in the early stages of the second half Clemson point guard Shelton Mitchell tried to spin away from Duke point guard Tre Jones as he took the ball down the court. Unfortunately for Mitchell, Zion was waiting for him out of the spin. Williamson quickly stripped the ball, and the basketball gods rewarded his efforts with a wide open lane for a monstrous 360 slam.
4. Revenge SZN
All Duke needed was a fully health Zion Williamson for the Blue Devils to avenge their previous two losses to the Tar Heels. In just his second game after returning from injury, all Zion did was go for an efficient 13-for-19 in a 31-point, 11-rebound performance.
His biggest rebound came off his own miss, setting himself up for the game-winning putback.
However, this wasn’t even his most efficient performance of the ACC tournament. We’ll have more on that later. Until then, here’s Zion doing Zion things:
5. Zion, Barrett sink Kentucky in freshman debut
After months of anticipation, even years for some, the wait for Zion’s Duke debut was over. It was also freshman debut of R.J. Barrett, Tre Jones and Cam Reddish as the Blue Devils opened the season against Kentucky.
It only seemed fitting that this superstar squad introduced itself to college basketball with a 34-point blowout victory over the then-No. 2 Wildcats. RJ Barrett’s 33 points along with Zion’s 28 allowed the Blue Devils to cruise to a 118–84 victory—the largest margin of defeat in the John Calipari era.
6. Duke-UCF 'and one'
This is an R.J. Barrett moment just as much as it is a Zion moment, but Duke might’ve been eliminated in the Round of 32 if it weren’t for the biggest and-one of Duke’s season.
Up by three, UCF was 20 seconds away from a massive upset when Zion caught the ball at the wing. Instead of firing a three, though, he took it to the rim. Zion used his spin move at the free throw line to shed UCF guard BJ Taylor, leaving one player between him and the rim: 7’6’’ center Tacko Fall.
Zion didn’t flinch. With time ticking, he went right at Tacko for quite possibly the toughest layup of the tournament. Not only did Zion maneuver through Tacko’s 8’0’’ wingspan, he rolled in the layup and drew a foul—Tacko’s fifth.
Zion went on to miss the game-tying free throw, but Tacko fouling out enabled Barrett to grab the rebound and drop in the game-winning basket.
7. The pass against Florida State in the ACC Tournament
Duke and college basketball fans alike enjoyed Zion’s return in the ACC tournament as he combined for 60 points in his first two games against Syracuse and North Carolina en route to the conference championship game.
Then, in the final against Florida State, Zion pulled out yet another impressive move from his endless bag of highlights. He saw Tre Jones streaking down court in transition after coming down with a rebound in the second half of the ACC tournament.
Rather than trying to toss the ball across the court, Zion fired a bounce pass which split through two Florida State defenders and landed right into Tre Jones’ lap. Jones hit the reverse layup while Zion stared at his left hand, seeming almost as amazed as the rest of us.
8. 13 for 13 in return
For the first time since Feb. 20, Zion suited up for Duke’s matchup with Syracuse in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament. As for his choice of shoes, Zion opted for custom Kyrie Irving 4’s after Nike officials paid a visit to Durham to work on a special sneaker for the 285-pound athlete.
Unfortunately for Syracuse, Zion didn’t appear to miss a beat—or a shot. Williamson sunk his first shot, then slammed his second and never missed after that, going a perfect 13 for 13 in a 29-point, 14-rebound performance.
9. Literally all of the dunks
If those weren’t enough to satisfy your craving, here's an entire YouTube video of the freshman phenom’s dunks.
10. And more blocks
Similar to his dunks, there are just too many. Luckily, there’s also a YouTube video for that too: