Zion Williamson was the undisputed No. 1 overall pick entering the 2019 NBA Draft, but if he had his way, he’d still be taking the floor at Cameron Indoor Stadium as a member of the Duke Blue Devils. Williamson, who is working his way back from a knee injury and is reportedly slated to make his debut for the New Orleans Pelicans sometime soon, appeared on teammate J.J. Redick’s podcast recently and discussed how he struggled with his decision to forego his final three years of collegiate eligibility.
Redick, who knows as well as anyone what it’s like to play in front of the Cameron Crazies, asked Williamson when he made up his mind on entering the draft. While it seemed like a no-brainer — Williamson more or less had the No. 1 spot locked up a few games into his freshman year — the Pelicans youngster stressed that he took his decision down to the wire.
“Me, I wanted to go back,” Williamson said. “Nobody ever believes me, they think I’m just saying that, but no, I genuinely wanted to go back. I felt like the NBA wasn’t going anywhere, the money thing, that’s money. I don’t play this for money, I play because I genuinely love the game. I just loved my experience at Duke that much where I wanted to stay. But it’s one of those situations where Coach K’s not gonna let me come back, cuz he wants me to do what’s best for the family.”
Williamson went onto say the deciding factor was his mom, and while he took her advice as a green light to stay in school, eventually, he made the leap.
“At the end of the day, I think it was kind of my mom,” Williamson said. “She said she was gonna support whatever I do, so I was like, ‘Alright, I’m going back.’ And then I think her and my stepdad talked about it, and they were like, ‘You worked too hard to get to this moment.’”
Knee injury aside, things have worked out pretty nicely for Williamson. He went No. 1, signed a lucrative deal with Jordan Brand, and when he returns to the Pelicans, he’ll take the floor for a team that’s currently only four games back of the 8-seed in the Western Conference. As for the Blue Devils, they’re the No. 2 team in college basketball, so while they’d probably love to take the floor alongside Williamson again, things are generally going well in Durham this year.