Sights and sounds of the NCAA practice round in Columbia
Zion Williamson hit on a variety of topics in his return to South Carolina for the NCAA Tournament at Colonial Life Arena in Columbia.
Williamson and his Duke teammates met with the media in a news conference setting and then again in front of a large crowd of reporters around his locker. The first topic: coming back to South Carolina, the first chance he has played a college basketball game in his home state.
“I didn’t think I would ever like have a chance, once I committed to Duke, to play in the state of South Carolina in a college basketball game. So that’s obviously a blessing, so I’m very excited about that,” Williamson said. “I can’t put my personal excitement ahead of my teammates because, at the end of the day, I’m on a team, and I want to win with my teammates, and we have to focus on just winning.”
Williamson was asked about his favorite memory of South Carolina and the Columbia area. As a junior, he played at the Chick-fil-A Classic and in front of sellout crowds for two of the games. He also set the tournament scoring record.
Williamson scored a career-high 53 points in win over Gray Collegiate and set the three-day tournament record with 109 points.
“My favorite memory from playing at Columbia would probably be my junior year, the Chick-Fil-A Classic. Playing against one of my best friends, Jalek Felton (Gray Collegiate). Playing against Keenan High School, those three games we played, those were a very exciting three games. Each game, the gym was packed, sold out, and the energy that the fans brought was incredible.”
Williamson reflected on playing AAU basketball with Irmo native Devontae Shuler, who also is playing this weekend at Colonial Life Arena with Ole Miss. The Rebels play Oklahoma in the first game Friday. Williamson and Shuler played with the S.C. Hornets AAU team coached by Ricky Taylor.
“He has come a long way, obviously. But for me, when I played with Shuler, I was a ninth-grader, he was a 10th-grader, and I was like, ‘Yeah, he’s the best player in the state,’ ” Williamson said. “He would impress me with so much, like he’d get steals but act like he got faked out by a spin move and just turn right back. He would be a very explosive scorer, like score 15 points straight. I used to just watch in awe of him. So, yeah, he has come a long way.”
Not all the questions were about basketball, though. Williamson was asked about what song he listens to on repeat to get ready for Friday’s game against North Dakota State.
“Mine would be ‘A Dream’ by Jay-Z and it features Faith Evans and Notorious B.I.G,” Williamson said.
More from Zion Williamson
QUESTION: Zion, did you have an opportunity to watch any of the North Dakota State game last night? If so, what were your impressions of the Bison?
ZION: Yeah, I got to watch some of it. My impressions were very good. They play as a unit. They can really shoot, and they remained calm, like they got the lead, and then Central cut it down. But even with that momentum swing, they didn’t like fold. They held their composure, and they got the win.
QUESTION: Zion, you’ve been like the biggest story in college basketball all year. How have you maintained your composure through that? And how excited are you for this chapter of playing in the NCAA Tournament?
ZION: I’m going to thank my parents for that because, when I told them I wanted to be a basketball player when I got older, they told me everything that would come with that, like all the on court and off court stuff and the media. So I was prepared for it. I’m very excited to be here because I watched March Madness as a little kid, and to actually be here playing for Coach K, playing for Duke, I couldn’t ask for a better situation.
QUESTION: Zion, coming back to your home state, has there been any buzz amongst your family and friends the last couple days? How many people do you expect to be here to be able to watch you?
ZION: There’s going to be a lot of people here because, at the end of the day, this is Duke University, so people will be here just because we’re Duke. Yeah, I had like a lot of friends and family telling me like good luck and they’re happy for me that I’m able to play in my home state.
QUESTION: Zion, when you look back to last year, between the signing, being able to win another state championship -- I know that brings a smile to your face. Obviously, everything’s been going on crazy. You have to get ready to go to Duke. Everyone is talking about what’s going to be next for him, making millions, NBA, all that kind of stuff. When you had your injury a couple of weeks back and everyone is speculating, did you have the time to maybe reflect a bit and kind of, you know what, this is my last go, this is why I want to play, because some people were saying he should just sit this next one out?
ZION: I did think about that. I always knew I’d be coming back because I love playing the game of basketball, and I love my teammates. I made a commitment to them when I committed to Duke. I feel like I would have been a bad person if I didn’t come back. So coming back was not an issue.
But one thing I did think about when I was out was a year has gone by fast. Just last year I was a senior in high school. My high school season was over at this point. You know, you just think about life and how you just have to enjoy every moment.