Zion sweeps: Duke’s Williamson wins ACC player, rookie of the year

Duke’s Zion Williamson: A dunking monster

Duke freshman Zion Williamson has an arsenal full of acrobatic dunks and photojournalist Chuck Liddy has been there for many of them. We take a closer look at a few from this season.
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Duke freshman Zion Williamson has an arsenal full of acrobatic dunks and photojournalist Chuck Liddy has been there for many of them. We take a closer look at a few from this season.

By the time Zion Williamson returns to play for Duke as expected on Thursday night at the ACC tournament, it will have been three weeks and one day since the freshman phenom appeared in a game.

His time away while his sprained right knee healed didn’t prevent him from collecting numerous awards from the ACC on Monday.

The 6-7, 285-pound freshman forward was named ACC player of the year and rookie of year, in addition to being named first-team all-conference and making the league’s all-defensive team.

He joins two other former Duke players, Marvin Bagley III last year and Jahlil Okafor in 2015, as the only players in league history to sweep player and rookie of the year awards in the same year.

Williamson, who missed Duke’s final five games with a sprained knee, is joined on the all-ACC first team by teammate R.J. Barrett, Virginia’s DeAndre Hunter and Kyle Guy and North Carolina’s Cam Johnson.

Virginia’s Tony Bennett was voted as coach of the year.

Hunter claimed defensive player of the year and Florida State’s Mfiondu Kabengele is the sixth man of the year while Louisville’s Jordan Nwora was named most improved player.

Williamson averaged 21.6 points and 8.8 rebounds per game for the Blue Devils (26-5). He’s been sidelined since his left shoe ruptured, causing an injury to his right knee, 36 seconds into Duke’s 88-72 loss to North Carolina on Feb. 20 at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said Williamson is expected to return for the ACC tournament. The Blue Devils, seeded No. 3, play their first game at 9:30 p.m. Thursday night at Charlotte’s Spectrum Center.

Williamson’s injury opened the door for Barrett’s case for player of the year. Barrett won the ACC scoring title, averaging 23.4 points while pulling down 7.5 rebounds per game.

But the ACC’s 70-person voting panel went overwhelmingly for Williamson, who received 49 votes for player of the year to second-place Barrett’s 16. In the rookie of the year voting, Williamson received 47 votes to Barrett’s 21.

Virginia (28-2) and UNC (26-5), who both went 16-2 in ACC play to share the league’s regular-season title, led the way with three players each on the all-conference teams.

In addition to Hunter and Guy on the first team, Virginia’s Ty Jerome was a second-team selection. UNC’s Luke Maye and Coby White were second-team selections as well.

Johnson, a 6-8 senior who came to UNC as a graduate transfer from Pittsburgh last season, represented the Tar Heels on the first team after averaging leading the team in scoring (16.8 points per game).

“He worked so hard throughout the off season to overcome numerous injuries and hip surgery,” UNC coach Roy Williams said in a statement. “We knew when he came to Carolina he was a talented player, but you can’t say enough about the type of young man he is and how he has meshed with our team, particularly with our seniors, Luke and Kenny (Williams).

“Luke, Coby and Cameron making the top two teams is a reward for our entire team’s success in going unbeaten on the road in league play and winning a share of the regular-season title.”

Boston College’s Ky Bowman and Virginia Tech’s Kerry Blackshear rounded out the second team.

Third-team selections included Nwora, Clemson’s Marcquise Reed, Syracuse’s Tyus Battle, Virginia Tech’s Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Notre Dame’s John Mooney.

Hunter and Williamson are joined on the all-defensive team by Duke’s Tre Jones, Georgia Tech’s James Banks and Clemson’s Elijah Thomas.

Duke landed three players on the all-freshman team in Williamson, Barrett and Jones. UNC’s White and Xavier Johnson of Pitt completed the team.

Five coaches received votes in the coach of the year race. Bennett, who has led the Cavaliers to a 33-3 record in league regular-season play over the last two years, outpaced second-place Buzz Williams of Virginia Tech 30-12.

UNC’s Williams was next at 11, followed by Florida State’s Leonard Hamilton (10) and Louisville’s Chris Mack (seven).

An Illinois native, Steve Wiseman has covered Duke athletics since 2010 for the Durham Herald-Sun and Raleigh News & Observer. Prior to his arrival in Durham, he worked for newspapers in Columbia and Spartanburg, S.C., Biloxi, Miss., and Charlotte covering beats including the NFL’s Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints, University of South Carolina athletics and the S.C. General Assembly.