SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski called the day after the Blue Devils’ home loss to North Carolina on Wednesday “one of the toughest 24 hours I’ve had as the coach at Duke.” He referenced the referendum on amateurism that the injury to Zion Williamson prompted, and declared that “everybody has opinions about everything.”
After No. 1 Duke’s 75-65 victory at Syracuse on Saturday night, Krzyzewski made clear Williamson would return to play for Duke. This came amid many loud opinions that he should sit and preserve himself for the NBA draft. “He wants to play,” Krzyzewski said. “He loves being at Duke.”
A flurry of NBA players encouraged Williamson to stop playing. DeMarcus Cousins said “college is bull—-.” Isaiah Thomas encouraged him to “sit yo ass down.” Trae Young told him to “chill out” for the rest of the season. They reiterated the advice that Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen first gave earlier in the season. Krzyzewski said there was no talk of that from Williamson or his family: “No,” he said. “None. A lot of people like to talk.”
Krzyzewski added: “He’s handled everything all year great. He’s such a great kid. We would never play a kid who’s not ready to play. We’d never play a youngster who didn’t want to play. So, it’s not about that.”
Krzyzewski made it appear that Williamson will return soon.
“It’s an injury you can get over in a shorter period of time,” he said. “There’s just a protocol we have to go through to make sure he’s completely ready. We’re not going to rush anything. That’s why we said ‘day-to-day,’ because it’s literally day-to-day.”
Williamson, the presumed No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA draft, traveled with the team to Syracuse and was his typical boisterous self on the Duke bench. He cheered on his freshman classmate RJ Barrett, the presumed No. 2 pick, who had 30 points on 14-for-20 shooting.
Krzyzewski said they were wondering whether to bring Williamson, as there would be inherent distractions with the furor that surrounded his injury. But he did for a simple reason. Williamson told him: “Coach, I want to be with my guys.” Krzyzewski added that he told him: “OK, just be you on the bench and be you in the locker room and he was.”
Soon enough, he’ll be with them on the floor as well.
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