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College Basketball

Zion Williamson ‘wanted to go back’ to Duke, pass on 2019 NBA Draft

Zion Williamson was the consensus No. 1 pick heading into the 2019 NBA Draft, but the lure of returning for another season with the Duke Blue Devils almost led him back to the college ranks.

Making an appearance this week on New Orleans Pelicans teammate JJ Redick’s podcast, Williamson opened up about the agonizing decision he faced ahead of the draft.

“Me, I wanted to go back,” Williamson said on “The JJ Redick Podcast,” as transcribed by Dime Mag. “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 on to say that after his mother said she would support whatever decision he made, she and his stepdad leaned toward the NBA, saying on the podcast that they told him, “You worked too hard to get to this moment.”

In the end, the case can be made that Williamson, despite his desire to return to Durham, had no choice but to head to the NBA. The risk of injury derailing his professional career was far too great.

In light of the fact Williamson already has faced a frightening injury issue in college with the now-infamous shoe blowup — not to mention one that has already delayed his NBA regular-season debut due to a meniscus tear in the preseason that required surgery — it’s safe to say Williamson was wise to make the leap to the pro ranks when he did.