Wooden Watch: Zion Williamson worthy of all the hype

ByMyron Medcalf ESPN logo
Thursday, January 24, 2019

Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett are just the latest duo in college basketball to captivate a national audience.

During the 1973-74 season, Bill Walton and Jamaal Wilkes were both consensus All-Americans after combining to average 36.0 points per game. Michael Jordan (19.6 PPG) won the Wooden Award in 1984, the same season he played next to Sam Perkins (17.6 PPG, 9.6 RPG) at North Carolina. More recently, John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins led Kentuckyto the Elite Eight in 2010.

But the most comparable combination to the Williamson-Barrett experience is one that dominated the sport 20 years ago in the same program.

In the 1998-99 season, former Dukestar Elton Brand (17.7 PPG, 9.8 RPG) won the Wooden Award, while teammate Trajan Langdon averaged 17.3 PPG, made 44 percent of his 3-pointers and hit 84 percent of this free throws.

At this point in late January, the race for the award feels like a two-man race that once again involves a stunning pair at Duke.

Forget the numbers for a moment. Williamson is going to win a bunch of awards, and if he continues to perform at this level, he'll win the Wooden Award, too. We're witnessing the most awesome effort by any player, regardless of experience, at the collegiate level since perhaps Shaquille O'Neal played for LSU. This entire movement feels like the craze we might have experienced had LeBron James played a year of college basketball.

Jay-Z's attendance at the Pittsburghgame on Tuesday night seemed normal, considering the buzz that has surrounded Williamson. Who knows if this will translate to superstardom in the NBA, but he certainly has the body and skill set for a great pro career. None of that matters right now, though. Instead, we should focus on this rare performance by a unique athlete, the likes of which we might not see again for years to come. There is a reason we still talk about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at UCLA and Magic Johnson at Michigan Stateand O'Neal at LSUand Penny Hardaway at Memphisand Jay Williams at Duke and Anthony Davis at Kentucky. They all did things that we had not seen before their respective arrivals and have not seen since they left college basketball.

Williamson falls into that category, too. Yeah, he gets a lot of hype. But that's what happens in a moment like this. It's not fraudulent hype. It's just excitement because we still can't believe what we're seeing.

Grant Williams: Tennessee, the No. 1 team in America, entered the week averaging 1.20 points per possession and allowing just 0.89 points per possession with Williams on the floor, per hooplens.com. He's the star of this rise. And that was clear when the Vols were struggling against Vanderbiltin Nashville on Wednesday night and Williams stepped up with a monster game: 43 points, 8 rebounds, 4 blocks, 2 assists and 1 steal. Williams, the reigning SEC Player of the Year, is making a serious run at the Wooden Award and a potential role of spoiler for the two Duke stars who've look like the front-runners.

He's Kobe to Williamson's Shaq right now. He's also the one constant within this program's run in 2018-19. Williamson missed a chunk of the Florida State win. Barrett steadied the ship with 32 points, though. No Cam Reddish against Syracuse last week? Barrett finished with 23 points, 16 rebounds and 9 assists in the overtime loss. He also finished with 30 points against Virginia on Saturday while Tre Jones remained sidelined by a shoulder injury. You could make the case that Barrett's consistency has been just as important for Duke as Williamson's contributions.

Kansasstar Udoka Azubuike is out for the season with a wrist injury. Silvio De Sousa is still sidelined by an indefinite suspension. The team's young standouts, Devon Dotson and Quentin Grimes, have looked like former top-10 prep prospects at times and typical freshmen in moments, too. But Lawson (19.5 PPG, 10.9 RPG, 1.1 BPG, 1.2 SPG) is doing everything in his power to carry the Jayhawks to another Big 12 title.

  • Rui Hachimura: He's averaging 20.1 PPG and connecting on 61 percent of his shots inside the arc this season.
  • Cassius Winston: Winston (18.0 PPG, 7.3 APG) is shouldering the load for Michigan State since Joshua Langford hasn't played in 2019 due to a foot injury.
  • De'Andre Hunter: The Virginia sophomore held his own in Saturday's loss at Duke with an 8-for-14, 18-point effort.
  • Admiral Schofield: Williams' co-star at Tennessee has connected on 45 percent of his 3-point attempts this season.
  • Ethan Happ: Wisconsin's star is setting himself up to make a lot of money after college with this stat line: 19.8 PPG, 10.3 RPG, 4.8 APG and 1.2 BPG.
  • Ja Morant: He's a nonstop highlight reel, averaging 24.3 PPG, 10.6 APG, 5.9 RPG and 1.8 SPG.
  • Markus Howard: Marquette's prolific scorer has hit the 45-point mark three times this season.
  • Jordan Caroline: The Nevadastar is putting up ridiculous numbers: 18.3 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 41 percent from the 3-point line entering the week.
  • Marial Shayok: He's averaging 19.8 PPG (No. 1 in the Big 12) for an Iowa Statesquad that's chasing a conference title.
  • Jarrett Culver: He's a star (18.7 PPG, 7.1 RPG) for a Texas Techsquad that has lost three games in a row.