NEW YORK – ESPN analyst and fellow Duke basketball product Jay Bilas recently underlined the unselfishness that emanates from Zion Williamson by noting that NBA.com’s consensus No. 1 draft pick often “throws the spotlight back on his teammates at every single opportunity.” While surrounded by dozens of media members Wednesday in a Grant Hyatt hotel ballroom, Williamson was the unquestioned center of attention, but made sure to deflect praise to fellow Blue Devils R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish, both of whom are expected to join Williamson as a lottery pick Thursday.
Williamson didn’t stop there. The 6-foot-7, 285-pound forward also seemed to compliment virtually everyone in his life, from his mother and stepfather, to his enthusiastic 5-year-old brother, to Mike Krzyzewski, to Duke’s assistant coaches, to little-known Blue Devils teammates who rarely played in 2018-19 but whose team-first attitude made a big impression on Williamson.
Indeed, the 18-year-old was so hesitant to talk about himself or boast in the tiniest matter Wednesday that he didn’t even want to acknowledge what many view as a foregone conclusion – that he’ll be the first player to shake Adam Silver’s hand on stage at Barclays Center. Williamson repeatedly used the word “if” when discussing the potential of New Orleans making him the No. 1 pick.
While recapping a recent trip to the Crescent City to meet with the Pelicans, including David Griffin and Alvin Gentry, Williamson noted that a prominent message from the organization was, “If they were to draft me, they would try to make it about joining a family. They kept it real with me. It wasn’t like they were trying to be my friend; they were keeping it (about) business and telling me what it was going to be like if they drafted me.”
When asked about how prestigious it would be to join the ranks of some of the greatest players in NBA history who’ve been No. 1 overall draftees, Williamson responded, “It would be a huge honor, knowing that a team would take me No. 1. You can’t dream this any better than that. Every kid dreams about being the No. 1 pick. If I have the honor, it would be a huge honor, something I can’t even put into words.”
While frequently smiling and making eye contact with the media members asking him questions, Williamson briefly shifted topics to clarify a report about his dining choice when he visited the renowned Commander’s Palace restaurant in New Orleans.
“I’ve been seeing people saying I got chicken tenders?” he said. “No, my 5-year-old brother did that. I got fried shrimp with some mashed potatoes.”
Williamson laughed and quickly added that his kid brother Noah “is just ‘The Man.’ He can go anywhere in the country and he’ll be at home.”
Speaking of feeling at home, Williamson grinned when he thought back to his recent trip to New Orleans. He took specific notice of the enthusiasm Pelicans fans showed for his potential arrival.
“The city seems very excited if I come there,” he said. “(Meeting with the Pelicans) they just told me that maybe they’ll draft me. Just maybe.
“The city was just very welcoming. Everywhere I went, people on the street were high-fiving me, saying they hope I come here… The city itself, I like the vibes of New Orleans.”