In a game in which you could spot the likes of Bulls General Manager Gar Forman and former President Barack Obama in the crowd, almost everyone came away disappointed. In the opening minute of Wednesday’s Duke-North Carolina game, Blue Devils star Zion Williamson slipped when trying to plant his foot, tearing through his PG 2.5 basketball sneaker and suffering an apparent knee/lower leg injury.
Zion Williamson shoe explodes 👀 pic.twitter.com/loSq69qydC— Josiah Johnson (@KingJosiah54) February 21, 2019
The Williamson injury happened approximately 40 seconds into the game, taking away much of the fanfare from one of the most anticipated college basketball games of the year for both fans and NBA scouts alike.
Postgame, Duke head coach Mike Krzyewski stated that Zion’s injury as of now is being labeled a mild knee sprain.
Coach K: “We’re very concerned about Zion. It’s a mild knee sprain. We will know about length of time tomorrow. It’s stable. Obviously it has an impact. You lose the NPOY on the 1st play.” pic.twitter.com/SCq6DBjnkJ— Duke Men’s Basketball (@DukeMBB) February 21, 2019
This initial diagnosis is very good for Williamson, as the injury appeared to be a much more serious knee or lower leg issue in real-time. Without Williamson, Duke had to rely heavily on freshmen RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish and Tre Jones for offense, and Jone specifically struggled to take on a bigger role. Clearly, Williamson’s prolonged absence had both a mental and physical effect on this young Duke team. They had no rim protection without him and they severely missed his leadership once the game got out of hand.
There was no shortage of love for Zion on the night, with everyone wishing him a quick recovery, including President Obama and Nike.
Zion Williamson seems like an outstanding young man as well as an outstanding basketball player. Wishing him a speedy recovery.— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) February 21, 2019
Official statement from Nike: “We are obviously concerned and want to wish Zion a speedy recovery. The quality and performance of our products are of utmost importance. While this is an isolated occurrence, we are working to identify the issue.” pic.twitter.com/LePHtXo7Gr— B/R Kicks (@brkicks) February 21, 2019
As of Thursday afternoon, it was announced that Williamson is listed as day-to-day with what is now being called a Grade 1 right knee sprain.
He will almost surely missed Duke’s next game on February 23 against Syracuse. Their last game of the regular season is a rematch against UNC on March 9. After that, the Blue Devils will be getting ready for the ACC Tournament in Charlotte, that starts on March 12.
If Williamson is going to return this season, it would be reasonable to expect it to happen by the ACC Tournament, as it is hard to imagine the idea of Zion playing in the NCAA Tournament without any game reps prior.
And of course, Williamson could shut it down for the rest of the season if he wants to use this recovery period to get ready for the NBA Draft, an idea that Bulls Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen had already floated. Regardless of what Williamson chooses to do, the entire basketball world will be on the edge of their seats.