High School Sports

One of nation’s top basketball recruits resides in Spartanburg, says Coach K offered scholarship

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.

One of the nation’s best high school basketball players lives about an hour outside Charlotte

Spartanburg Day School junior Zion Williamson is a 6-foot-6, 230-pound small forward who is ranked as high as No. 2 nationally in the recruiting class of 2018.

“Oh man, he can do it all,” said recruiting analyst Rick Lewis of Phenom Hoop Report, which tracks players in North and South Carolina. “He’s got a tremendous body. He has size, athleticism and an advanced skill set. He’s just a special player at the highest level. He’s the type of player you’ll probably see in the NBA one day.”

Williams received his first scholarship offer from hometown Wofford at the end of his freshman year. Back then, Williamson was a 6-3, 175-pound guard. Today, after a 3-inch growth spurt, he has 36 offers, including from elite programs such as Duke, Kansas and North Carolina.

Williamson’s stock rose after leading Spartanburg Day to the S.C. Independent Schools 2A state championship last February. He scored 32 points in an 80-57 win against Bethesda (Ga.) Academy. At the Bob Gibbons Tournament of Champions last spring in Georgia, Williamson caught an alley-oop pass, then delivered a dunk over an opponent that drew nearly 100,000 views on YouTube.

He followed those performances by winning co-MVP at the National Basketball Players Association developmental camp for some of the nation’s top players. Williamson added MVP of the Under Armour Elite 24 national all-star game in New York. While there, he also won the dunk contest.

“He had a fabulous, fabulous spring and summer,” said ESPN national recruiting analyst Paul Biancardi, who lives in Charlotte. “We put him at No. 10 (nationally) in the spring and No. 3 now. When you look at the best players in the class, when it comes to potential and productivity, dominating performances, (6-11 Arizona power foward) Marvin Bagley still holds that top spot.

“It’s going to take a monumental effort to knock him down, but Zion’s right there knocking on the door.”

Williamson, who won’t turn 17 until July, was born in Salisbury. His father, Lateef Williamson, was a 6-4, 270-pound defensive lineman who committed to N.C. State in 1993. Lateef Williamson was a high school All-American at Darlington (S.C.) High and picked the Wolfpack over Penn State, South Carolina and North Carolina. Zion Williamson’s mother, Sharonda Sampson, ran track at Livingstone College in Salisbury.

Sampson said her son has always been talented in basketball, but things changed dramatically with the growth spurt after ninth grade.

“Sometimes it doesn’t dawn on you as parents,” said Sampson, who is married to former Clemson basketball player Lee Anderson. “But all the time, when he was growing up playing, he stood out among his peers. When you have elderly people come to watch and they don’t know who you are, and they’re saying this boy will be special and we’ll see him on TV, you start to think there may be something to this.”

Sampson, a middle school health teacher in Greenville, moved her family to South Carolina from Salisbury shortly after her mother died in 2002. She enrolled Zion in Spartanburg Day two years ago, just before his freshman year. When he fell and broke his wrist during a game as a freshman, doctors told the family to be careful about his return. X-rays showed that Williamson’s growth plate was open and he could grow another 5 inches.

Sure enough, Zion started growing. But as the height and size came, and the basketball attention increased, Sampson said her son never changed.

“Zion is really a homebody,’ she said. “Most teenagers are interested in getting in a car and hanging with friends, but if he’s not playing, he wants to hang in his room and play video games and watch Netflix.”

Williamson said he grew up playing guard and working on ball handling and shooting. But soon after turning 15, his back and knees became painful because of the growth spurt, he said.

“Once the pain went away,” Williamson said, “I picked up all this newfound athleticism. I don’t know where it came from. I just accepted it. Now, I had my ball handling and size, and the power forwards and small forwards who tried to guard me, I could fly by them. It’s like a mismatch problem for me.”

After displaying guard skills in a big man’s body, college coaches started contacting him. One call that surprised him came from Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski in August.

His mother was preparing dinner and Williamson was on the couch watching television when his cell phone rang. He walked into his bedroom with his phone and was there for about 20 minutes.

“I asked him, ‘Boy, what are you doing?’ ” Sampson said. “He’s like, ‘I’m talking to Coach K! I can’t even contain myself. It’s Coach K!’ ”

Said Williamson: “He had been at the Olympics all summer (coaching the U.S. men’s team) and he said he heard so much about me from (his college assistants). And he went on to say how he was going to start recruiting me and how he saw film of me and really loved it.

“He offered me a scholarship, and the final thing he said before he hung up was that he’s trying to build a family-type relationship with me.”

There figures to be many more calls and visits for Williamson, who averaged 28 points and 10 rebounds as a sophomore. He said all the schools that have offered him are in play, and that he’s not rushing a college decision.

“I’m looking to be a college guy,” he said. “I want to stay two or three years. But every coach I talk to says I’m a one-and-done player (good enough to turn professional after one year of college). If that opportunity presents itself, I’ll take that opportunity.

“But as a 16-year-old, it’s a lot to take in. But if I get this attention now and keep working hard, I wonder what the future holds for me. But right now, when I look to the future, I don’t look far. I’m looking to help my team win another state championship. Let’s start there.”

Wertz: 704-358-5133; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr

Williamson’s Career Stats

Freshman Year

24.4 points per game

9.4 rebounds per game

2.8 assists per game

Sophomore Year

28.3 points per game

10.4 rebounds per game

2.5 assists per game

Williamson’s National Rankings

247Sports: No. 2 in class of 2018

ESPN: No. 3 in class of 2018

Scout: No. 2 in class of 2018