Zion Williamson is one of the most exciting young NBA prospects. Despite being sidelined with a knee injury for the first 44 games of the season, he’s quickly established himself as a versatile force. NBA analysts have pointed out Williamson’s insane talent before he’d even entered high school.
Among current players, only LeBron James and Anthony Davis faced the same scrutiny as Williamson from a young age. Yet the Pelicans athlete recently revealed he didn’t know about his hype until his junior year in high school. Let’s look at Williamson’s pre-college career, as well as his surprising comments about dealing with the expectations.
Zion Williamson’s early basketball career
According to Williamson, at just 5 years old, he already knew he wanted to be the top college basketball player in the country, reports USA Today. By age 9, he was waking up at 5 a.m. to work on his shot. In 2013, Williamson led his middle school team to an 8-1 record and a conference championship, according to SC Now.
Williamson’s high school career was even more impressive. Playing for Spartanburg Day School, Williamson led his team to three straight state titles in South Carolina Class AA.
On an individual level, his accomplishments were even more impressive. He averaged 36.4 points, 11.4 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game. As many commentators pointed out, Williamson stood head and shoulders above his peers — both literally and figuratively.
The moment Williamson realized he was a big deal
When a basketball player has as much raw talent as Williamson, they usually know it. Not only do they draw attention from coaches, schools, and scouts, but they also face intense media scrutiny. Tuning out the attention is difficult for young stars, adding to the pressure to perform at a high level.
Not so with Williamson. In a recent appearance on New Orleans Pelicans teammate J.J. Redick’s podcast, Williamson said he didn’t even know he was considered a big deal until his junior year in high school. Williamson pinpointed the exact game: a matchup at a church gymnasium in Columbia, South Carolina.
That day, Williamson scored 47 points. Yet his impressive scoring did not get the most attention. Instead, his thunderous dunks made it onto blogs, highlight reels, and social media around the world. Soon Williamson’s friends and family were calling to tell him he’d become a viral sensation.
When a basketball player becomes a worldwide phenomenon as a teen, trouble often follows. Not only does pressure to perform increase, but it also leads many young stars to develop an inflated sense of importance.
At one point in the podcast, Redick’s co-host Tommy Alter pointed out those perils, asking the power forward how he managed to keep such a level head. Williamson responded that much of the hype was “just social media.” He said his primary concern has always been to remain focused on playing the game he loved.
Elsewhere in the podcast, Williamson also identified himself as being mature for his age. This mentality is certainly evident up to this point in his career. It’s also helped him stay posed throughout the disappointment of his injury this season. As the media attention around Williamson grows in the coming years, this maturity will continue to serve him well.
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