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Eye on Zion

In light of recent NCAA basketball talent, the legitimacy and objective of a certain NBA regulation has sparked heated debate: the one-and-done rule. The statute mandates that all players entering the NBA draft must be at least 19 years old or have completed at least one year of college. While some players play overseas or in developmental leagues, many top prospects turn to the NCAA and college basketball to bridge the gap between high school and the NBA. Instituted in 2005, the rule has been tested time and time again, having been called into question for depriving dominant players from taking their talents to the NBA and cashing in on lucrative endorsement deals and million-dollar contracts. Most recently, basketball phenom and athletic spectacle Zion Williamson has strained the tensions surrounding young talent to a breaking point. His status as one of the most promising young players in basketball, and possibly the most hyped prospect since LeBron James, has led many to question the existence of this one-and-done rule. Despite mounting doubt of the unpopular mandate, the rule actually helps the players that it is thought to hinder.

Through the study of current college basketball player Zion Williamson, the one-and-done rule can be placed in a different light: one of opportunity, caring guidance, and ultimate recognition. NCAA Basketball offers a preemptive platform to showcase one’s prowess; a middle ground between the localized nature of high school and the global presence of the NBA. No one in recent memory has taken advantage of this platform more than Duke Blue Devil and likely first-overall pick Zion Williamson.

Already a standout player at Spartanburg Day School (high school) in South Carolina, Williamson was accustomed to attention well before he arrived at Duke. This hype, however, was limited to wild highlight videos and powerful dunks. Williamson was an attraction, but he didn’t possess the legitimacy of a national star, or the national spotlight provided by the NCAA. Had Williamson gone straight to the NBA, he still would have garnered a fair audience based on his flashy play alone. But his time at Duke has transformed him into an international superstar, and given him a large presence in the basketball world. At Duke, Williamson played on national television every week, victimizing rims and defenders on a weekly basis. His highlights regularly occupy ESPN SportsCenter Top Ten lists, and discussion of his play is hard to miss across media outlets like ESPN, Fox Sports and Sports Illustrated. After injuring his knee in a freak accident (in which Williamson literally ran through the sole of his shoe), almost every single American news outlet aired a breaking news headline along the lines of “Zion Williamson Breaks Shoe,” sparking widespread criticism towards Nike and a whirlwind of controversy. Williamson has become larger than life. Each dunk, each block, and each 40-inch leap further solidified his stardom. With the opportunity that came with playing for Duke, even if only for a year, Zion Williamson elevated himself to superstar status, becoming a household name and setting himself up for many lucrative contracts and endorsements in his future NBA career.

Aside from the publicity garnered by Williamson as a result of his awe-inspiring feats, another advantage of Williamson’s time in NCAA Basketball was the opportunity to learn from one of the world’s greatest basketball minds: Duke Head Basketball Coach Mike Krzyzewski. Under the guidance of Coach K, Williamson exhibited great touch when finishing at the rim, and substantial improvement on the defensive end. Williamson’s time at Duke has allowed him to develop into a more well-rounded player. While he still serves as a perpetual highlight reel, his work with Coach K has enabled Williamson to develop into a more fundamentally sound player. All of these fundamental aspects of his game have made him the consensus pick for the first overall selection in the upcoming 2019 NBA Draft.

In high school, Williamson was a top-five recruit. But after one year of college, he is considered to be one of the best young basketball players in the world. By many metrics, the competition is not even close. Williamson received ACC Player of the Year honors, was named to the AP All-American First Team, and averaged 22.6 points and 8.9 rebounds per game while making an impressive 68% of his shots. Williamson was clearly a cut above his collegiate competition.

Williamson’s forced year in college might seem like an injustice, but his Duke career insured his future, provided him with limitless earning potential (in the form of mass endorsements and large contracts), and equipped him with strong fundamental basketball skills. Because of his Duke career, Williamson has asserted himself as a player to watch in the future. While the one-and-done rule might seem to hold players back from achieving greatness and pursuing financial gain, in the case of elite NBA-ready talents such as Zion Williamson, a year in college can actually be beneficial. Quite obviously, only a very small percentage of college basketball players even belong in the same breath as Zion Williamson. But for those who possess the generational talent needed to dominate, a year at university might not be so bad.