Zion Williamson explains mulling over a Duke return for sophomore season: 'I wanted to go back'
Williamson ultimately decided in the final hour he'd turn pro and went No. 1 overall last summer
Zion Williamson's lone college season at Duke was so nice, he almost decided he'd give it a try twice. In a revealing interview with The Ringer's JJ Redick and Tommy Alter on Wednesday, Williamson insisted that despite overwhelming feedback that he'd be a top pick and, in turn, a multi-millionaire, he heavily considered returning to Duke as a sophomore. Williamson ultimately stayed in the draft and went No. 1 overall to the New Orleans Pelicans, but he says he grappled with the decision until the final hour of the early withdrawal deadline last summer.
"Me, I wanted to go back. Nobody ever believes me and they think I'm just saying that, but no, I genuinely wanted to go back," he said. "I felt like the NBA wasn't going anywhere. The money thing, that's money, I don't play this for money, I play for the love of the game. I just loved my experience at Duke that much where I wanted to stay."
By season's end, Williamson was considered the consensus No. 1 prospect in the 2019 NBA Draft. Returning to college would have broken the internet, and likely made Duke the overwhelming favorite to win it all this season.
Believe him or not, Williamson makes a compelling case that he considered doing what no one ever thought he'd do by returning. Most prospects with a first-round grade go given the guaranteed money while lottery prospects typically don't think twice. Projected No. 1 picks never consider anything else. In the end, though, he says he was swayed by Coach K and his family to ride his momentum to the NBA.
"It was one of those situations where Coach K's not gonna let me come back because he wants me to do what's best for the family," said Williamson. "My teammates are saying 'that would be dope if you come back' but at the same time, they're telling me I would be leaving too much, I didn't work this long to get to that. It was tough. At the end of the day I think it was my mom. She said she'd support me in whatever I do, so I was like 'alright, I'm going back.' I think her and my stepdad talked about it, and they were like, 'you worked too hard to get to this moment. You'd feel bad if you left it.'"
It would have been great for college basketball to see Williamson return to Duke, but for his sake, it seems he made the right choice. Williamson suffered a knee injury earlier this season that required surgery, and he's still yet to play a minute in a regular season game. If he had returned to Duke and sustained a knee injury, it could have cost him millions of dollars if he were to slip from the No. 1 draft spot down team's draft boards.
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