Saturday is D-Day for national basketball recruit Zion Williamson.
At 8:15 p.m., at his school’s gym at Spartanburg Day, Williamson will provide the answer for the most popular question recently in college basketball recruiting:
“Where will Zion go?”
ESPN2 will televise The Decision live during “SportsCenter.” Williamson will announce his choice on his mother’s birthday.
Williamson is a 6-foot-7, 250-pound force of nature who has become popular for his powerful dunks and scoring prowess. This season, he’s averaging 37.5 points and 15.5 rebounds and many recruiting experts believe Williamson may shun traditional college basketball powers like Duke, North Carolina, Kansas and Kentucky to stay in state. South Carolina and Clemson, like the four national powers aforementioned, are believed to be among Williamson’s finalists, with Clemson -- yes, Clemson -- being the leader in the clubhouse.
Earlier this month, 247Sports collected predictions from 28 national recruiting experts. Seventeen predicted Williamson would attend go to Clemson. Seven had Kentucky. Two had UNC, one had Kansas, and one was not sure. Friday night, the site gave Williamson an 88 percent chance of choosing Clemson.
Carolinas recruiting expert Rick Lewis also believes Williamson will attend Clemson. Lewis covers the Carolinas closely for his Phenom Hoop Report service.
"My gut says Clemson," Lewis told the Observer earlier this month. "Zion is a local kid who has stayed home to play for a local high school team when he had opportunities to go elsewhere. He’s got a unique skill set blessed with unbelievable athleticism. He can be a local and state legend. He’s a one-and-done no matter where he goes. Why not do it for your hometown school?"
ESPN’s Paul Biancardi agrees with Lewis.
"I have studied Williamson for years," said Biancardi, who is ESPN’s national director of recruiting and player rankings. "He is physically imposing and is a special athlete. When you look at his frame you expect a strong and powerful prospect and he certainly is that. What you don’t expect is the speed, quickness and the overall mobility to go along with his freakish vertical. Once he gets equal to his defender with the blow by dribble or when he gets angles to the rim, the only way to stop him is to foul him. His versatility is endless.”
During the week, several publications have spent time delving into Williamson’s recruitment.
▪ Rivals.com asked seven friends and coaches where they thought Williamson might be leaning. Kentucky recruit and Williamson bud Immanuel Quickley predicted Kentucky but wasn’t sure. UNC recruit and good friend Nassir Little said Williamson is just hard to read. A travel basketball program director said he it doesn’t matter where Williamson goes, he’s a one-and-done star.
“You cannot guard that kid with one player,” the director said. “The important thing for him is having other good players around him wherever he goes to school so that when he does get double-teamed he can make passes and (make) others around him better, which I think he is really good at, since he is so unselfish. He has such a great spirit, great personality, really likable and I just enjoy watching him play. But that kid is a star.”
▪ The Columbia State, a sister paper of the Observer, opined that Clemson has the best chance because it’s recruited Williamson the longest. The story correctly points out that Williamson’s stepdad and summer coach, Lee Anderson, played for Clemson and is close with the Tigers’ staff. Clemson, the paper writes, is also selling Williamson on the idea that he could not only be the rare All-American to come from the school, but he could become the greatest player in school history.
▪ USA Today asked several recruits from schools Williamson is considering as well as the Columbia (SC) mayor to film recruiting videos for Williamson. UNC recruit Coby White ended his video by telling Williamson that: “You know we all gonna eat, we all gonna kill, but if you want to come be a winner, you know what it do – Come to UNC-Chapel Hill.”
Still, all signs right now point to Clemson. And getting a recruit like Williamson would be a major coup for Clemson, which hasn’t made the NCAA tournament since 2011. Clemson was 17-16 under coach Brad Brownell last season. Since the 2011 NCAA appearance, Clemson has only had one season with 20 or more wins.
ESPN’s Jeff Goodman reported that Brownell nearly lost his job after last season.
"It came down to the wire a year ago whether Brownell would still be the Tigers’ head coach this season," Goodman wrote, "but athletic director Dan Radakovich gave him another season. Brownell went to the NCAA tourney in 2011, his first season, but hasn't been back in the past six years. Brownell's deal was actually extended through 2021, but the buyout dropped from $3.5 million to $1.7 million."
Williamson, who has 1.1 million Instagram followers, could boost Clemson to a big season and an NCAA tournament appearance as well as more national television games, which could help recruiting and boost attendance.