MINNEAPOLIS — Zion Williamson arrived at the Final Four on Friday.
But the most hyped and compelling college basketball player in recent memory was here to pick up some major hardware, not to play more basketball.
“Yeah, I am a competitor,” he said humbly as he accepted both the Oscar Robertson Trophy and the Associated Press National Player of the Year Award. “I wish I was here under different circumstances, but I mean, you win some, you lose some, so you just got to move on.”
The 6-foot-7 Williamson had hoped to be competing in this weekend's Final Four and ultimately winning Duke's sixth NCAA championship under coach Mike Krzyzewski. But he and the Blue Devils lost a heartbreaker last Sunday to Michigan State, 68-67, in the Elite Eight in Washington, D.C.
Zion and the Big O pic.twitter.com/hXrPjyMeSa— Adam Zagoria (@AdamZagoria) April 5, 2019
“[Cassius] Winston just kind of controlled the game, like he took over at one point,” Williamson said of the Spartans point guard. “So congrats to Michigan State, I wish them the best of luck.”
Now comes the next phase of Williamson’s life as he heads toward the NBA Draft on June 20 in New York. Before that comes the all-important NBA Draft Lottery in Chicago on May 14.
Currently, the Knicks, Cavaliers, and Suns all have a 14 percent chance at landing a generational talent who could instantly transform their franchises.
“Whatever NBA team I land on, that’s where I want to be,” he said.
Robertson, the Hall of Famer, sat next to Williamson on the dais and praised both his talent and his humble approach to the game.
“When I watched Zion, I watched his footwork and his intelligence when he went into the basket because everyone was after him,” Robertson said. “They were going to double-team him and triple-team him and do all these things to try to keep him from around the basket. He’s so gifted and he’s just so quick and so high, it's difficult for any one person to guard him.
“And as I said before, he's going to get better when he gets to the next level, which I’m happy about.”
Williamson, in turn, said he was awed to be honored by “The Big O.”
“He’s one of the greatest to do it, and I have a lot of respect for him,” Williamson said. “I mean, me being selected for this, like I can’t put it into words, like the fact that he would take notice of me is crazy to me. So I’m like very grateful that they selected me for this.”
As for the games here at the Final Four, Williamson said he didn't have a favorite and wished all four teams good luck.
“I’m not going to select any team because, obviously, I want it to be us,” he said. “I wish all those teams the best of luck. They compete hard. Somebody’s going to come out on top.”
Asked to break down each remaining team, he did so patiently. Duke played three of the four teams this year, all except Auburn.
“But the thing about Virginia was how they could control the pace of the game,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen them frustrated. So they control the game very well.
“Texas Tech, their defense, I mean, they took like nine, ten charges against us, and I mean, their defense was probably the best I played against.
“Michigan State, they ran motion offense very—like great. When the first option wasn’t there, they kept running through their plays. I mean, they eventually found open shots.
“And Auburn, Auburn’s a fast-paced team that can shoot the three ball very well, and I mean, they’re very aggressive."
Williamson said he was glad he attended Duke for a year and wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.
“Just walking around Duke as a regular student, that's something I’m never going to forget,” he said.
“Just walking around campus, walking to class. I’m glad I came to Duke because the campus is beautiful.”
He will never again play with Duke teammate R.J. Barrett, his close friend and the projected No. 2 pick in the NBA Draft. But he looks forward to what’s next for both.
“I think we had a great season,” he said, “and I’m looking forward to what we’re both going to do in the future.”