By Zach Griffith | @ZachGriffith17
Sports Capital Journalism Program
MINNEAPOLIS – Duke freshman Zion Williamson was named Player of the Year by both the United States Basketball Writers Association and the Associated Press on Friday.
Williamson, who is projected to be the number one pick in this year’s NBA Draft, first accepted the USBWA’s Oscar Robertson Trophy.
Williamson is the third freshman to receive the USBWA award, joining Kentucky’s Anthony Davis in 2012 and Kevin Durant in 2007. He is the eighth Duke player to be honored by the USBWA and the first since J.J. Redick in 2006.
After accepting the award, Williamson thanked all who have gotten him to this point in his career.
“I’d like to thank God because without Him I wouldn’t even be here,” said Williamson. “I’d also like to thank the USBWA for selecting me as the Player of the Year because there are so many other great players across the country that could have won this award. I’d like to thank my coaches, teammates, managers, and all the staff at Duke because, you know, (they) came in every day ready to work, ready to get better.”
During the presentation, Robertson, who won the first two awards in 1959 and 1960, reminded Williamson that there is plenty of basketball ahead of him.
“As I was talking to Zion back here, I congratulated him for having such a great year,” Robertson said. “But I also told him, you know, your basketball is all out in front of you. I said, ‘You may not believe it now, but you can get a whole lot better.’ I think the NBA is fortunate to get a young player like you to go in, along with some other stars, and be very productive.”
When asked how Duke’s Elite Eight loss to Michigan State weighed on his emotions, Williamson said that he wished the situation was different and praised his teammates for their support.
“I am honored that I was selected for this award,” said Williamson. “I see it as a team award, like I said, because my teammates always pushed me to be here, and so did the coaches. But, yeah, I am a competitor. I wish I was here under different circumstances, but I mean, you win some, you lose some, so you just got to move on.”
In addition to his teammates, Williamson said that Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has influenced him a great deal in his one season and acclimated him to the college game.
“He’s had a big influence on me,” Williamson said. “You know, just everything he taught the team, like throughout the season, like how to handle different situations, like how to prepare for different things. One thing that stood out to me with adjusting to the college game was he told me the game was so simple that it’s crazy. So he would like break down film about how simple the game could be. I mean, you wouldn’t see it when you were on the court, but when you’re watching it on film, like the game is very simple.”
In response to a question about his preferences at the professional level, Williamson said that he would play for the team that drafts him, including the New York Knicks.
“Whatever NBA team I land on, that’s the team I want to — that’s where I want to be,” said Williamson. “Like whoever drafts me, that’s where I want to be. Yeah, if they [the Knicks] draft me, I would love to play for them.”
Williamson again lauded his teammates, specifically his roommate RJ Barrett.
“The bond I have with my teammates has been incredible,” said Williamson. “…We were always together off the court. For RJ, RJ is a brother to me. We relate with so much. We’re always together, like we always know what the other one’s thinking. I think the chemistry was there on and off the court.”
Outside of playing for the Blue Devils, Williamson will miss the Duke campus more than anything else.
“I just think that’s something I’m never going to forget, like walking to class, just walking around the campus, because the college experience is something like I never want to miss out on,” Williamson said. “I’m glad I came to Duke because the campus is so beautiful. So when I’m walking to class, it’s something to take in every day.”