D.A.: Will Zion Williamson Be College Hoops' Last Great Player?

With changes to one-and-done likely coming, Williamson could be "the last of the dinosaurs," DA says

The DA Show
March 27, 2018 - 4:18 pm

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It's no mystery college basketball is in the middle of upheaval. Whether it's the ticking time bomb of the FBI probe, Loyola-Chicago's run to the Final Four, or the NBA's plan to have a relationship with grassroots basketball, it feels like we are in the middle of a seachange. The Ramblers' dance and Sister Jean's celebrity will hopefully open the door to more mid-majors getting respect on Selection Sunday. Wouldn't the organizers want more chances at Cinderella charming a nation of cynics? The feds knocking on the door of coaches and scaring the bejeezus out of programs can only serve to reorder how the recruiting game is played. At the very least it should shift the rules of engagement. Adam Silver openly discussing a plan to rectify the one-and-done rule is more evidence an alteration to amatuer hoops is near. 

Into this basketball blender steps Zion Williamson, one of the most tantalizingly gifted players ever. On Monday he waltzed into the Powerade Jam Fest and delivered yet another jaw-dropping hammer of superiority. Zion stature at the McDonald's All-American Game is incredible. He was the blinding icon within a group of studs, the guy all eyes and iPhone cameras were pointed at... because he might just do something no one has ever seen before. Every one of these players have been breathlessly recruited for years, feted by basketball factories, fawned over by friends, family and peers, then given free sneakers and apparel from shoe companies looking to touch the sizzle. Yet they all step aside for Zion, the master of ceremonies. 

His dunks have become YouTube lore, each rim-rattling, backboard-destroying smash played on loop for millions. He's the #2 recruit in the country, choosing Duke over Kentucky, UNC, Clemson and others. He will be featured as the singular must-watch player of next season, spotlighted on national television almost every night. There is nothing the networks love more than an already-packaged star at the nation's most-discussed program unleashing dunks for the Snapchat generation. An under-the-legs windmill at Cameron Indoor for the top-ranked Blue Devils? Dicky V. might just float up to heaven right there from courtside.  

Which also means Zion may be the last of the dinosaurs. Reportedly, Silver and the NBA will announce an amendment to the eligibility clause soon which could go into effect by the 2019 NBA Draft. A name brand mimicking a student with every intention of departing for the pros would be a relic after next season. A player who builds a national profile and army of potential endorsers will always jump directly to the league. How many Zions will ever play college basketball again? And when you think about it, why should they?

This is not to say there won't be stars in the NCAA. But they would be created via March Madness moments, or molded into our consciousness by longevity at a school. Those four-year guys who seem to have 10 years of eligibility? They'd be your new stars. But those aren't the types of players that garner legions of fans in high school. Those aren't the players who are legends of social media. Faces like Carmelo Anthony, Anthony Davis, and Kevin Durant were somebody before they even stepped on campus. Just like Zion. 

There of course, was a time when high school phenoms didn't have to "play college." LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett were all known to the nation at large when they declared for the NBA Draft out of high school. But for the last 13 years, the college game was the incubator of superstar talent before the pros. The nation once was glued to Clyde and Hakeem, Ewing and The Admiral, Iverson and Shaq, at their college stops. They became household names while still in school, which helped surge the popularity of NCAA hoops. If this is the final rodeo for that dynamic, then the final cowboy is Zion. The last great college basketball player, a celebrity before he signs, may be the last one out the door before the revolution comes. Turn out the lights with an under-the-legs windmill, please. 

 

Damon Amendolara, known by his fans as D.A., hosts “The D.A. Show,” from 9:00AM-12:00PM, ET, across the country on the nation’s largest 24/7 major-market radio network. “The D.A. Show” is known for its unique perspective on sports, tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, colorful listener interaction, and candid interviews with athletes and coaches. Amendolara also appears regularly on NFL Network as part of the “NFL Top 10” documentary film series, CBS television and SNY TV. He is a Syracuse University grad and native of Warwick, N.Y.