College basketball starts heating up in February. Teams start to see if they have a shot at making a tournament, teams within each conference are battling it out almost every night, and in just a few short weeks, any team trying to qualify for the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament, also known as March Madness, will have to make its final moves to try and be in that tournament.
Even as two perennial competitors faced off in an Atlantic Coast Conference battle, the buzz in the arena was all about one player. Hype around athletes representing Duke and Virginia isn’t new, but something’s special about Duke freshman baller Zion Williamson. His size and agility bring to mind N.B.A. talent like Kristaps Porziņģis, the 7-foot, 3-inched forward and center who can shoot too. Williamson weighs in at about 40 pounds heavier, making him a good candidate for offensive linemen in the N.F.L., maybe even a fullback with his agility.
On the basketball court though, Williamson gets to throw down slam dunks that make you almost feel badly for the hoop because of the sheer force Williamson brings. The crowd goes wild though every time, just as it did when he dunked the ball and got the crowd roaring on its feet before most people even found their seats because the game just started.
The screaming fans also came to catch a glimpse of Williamson before his likely illustrious career in the N.B.A., where ticket prices will be much higher to watch the phenom wow. Once his season ends, Williamson will start preparing for that hopeful professional career because prognosticators pin him as the likely number one pick of the 2019 N.B.A. draft.
Williamson is joined by Murray State’s Ja Morant, a sophomore who may be able to match the raw talent of Williamson. He rose from relative obscurity to a likely top draft pick. He’s a whole foot shorter than Williamson, which still means his head sits 75 inches above the ground. Both players don’t quite have the touch that Porziņģis has from behind the arc. If either player, especially one who is over 7 feet tall, could find a rhythm for shooting three-point shots, they would be absolute nightmares for opposing teams to cover. A big man can already be hard enough to keep out of the paint. Double teams are usually required. If he also has the ability to pull up and hit a jumper, defenders will have to respect that ability, which makes it that much harder to defend against drives and dunks.
The two studs prepare to enter the N.B.A. at a time when criticism of the N.C.A.A. is at an all-time high for its refusal to pay what it calls “student athletes.” Playing at that level of competition in college is practically a full-time job, and the athletes still need to fit in lessons with tutors and schoolwork wherever they can. There’s no guarantee that an athlete’s scholarship will last during his or her entire time at the school, and there’s far from any guarantee of going professional. While most student athletes don’t intend to go pro, some are banking on it, and without a good education, they may be completely stuck after college if they can’t get paid to play sports professionally.
By: Raha Monnes
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