BOSTON (CBS) — The biggest star in college basketball exited one of the biggest games of the season Wednesday night after playing just 34 seconds. Nobody knows when — or if — they’ll see Zion Williamson in a Duke jersey again.
Williamson, the leading candidate for National Player of the Year, suffered a knee injury when his shoe fell apart on Duke’s opening possession against North Carolina. He left the game and did not return. Duke would end up losing at home to UNC by 16 points.
While the loss of Williamson was a major disappointment for all who hoped to see a great game — and for all those who paid big bucks to be in attendance — it was an injury that surely caught the attention of a number of NBA stars. Some of them advocated that players with Williamson’s skill level either shouldn’t be required to spend a year playing college basketball, thus running the risk of suffering an injury that could derail or damage their professional careers, or at the very least should receive compensation.
LeBron James, who was in the third-to-last draft class allowed to go to the NBA straight from high school back in 2003, didn’t weigh in on the matter, but did offer his support.
What will come next, regardless of the injury’s severity or lack thereof, will be a national debate about whether Williamson should suit up at all for the rest of the season. With 21.6 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.2 assist and 1.8 blocks per game, Williamson has already proven in 26 games that he’s worthy of being the No. 1 selection in this year’s NBA draft.
Whether or not Williamson plays, the injury is likely going to shine a light on the NBA’s requirement for all players to be 19 years old before being eligible for the draft. This requirement has led to most players competing in the NCAA, though the option of playing in Europe — aka the Brandon Jennings route — has been available.
Last summer, NBA commissioner Adam Silver said that the league was “ready to make that change” with regard to lowering the minimum age limit to 18.
“My personal view is that we’re ready to make that change [and] that it won’t come immediately,” Silver said. “When I’ve weighed the pros and cons, given that Condoleezza Rice and her commission has recommended to the NBA that those one-and-done players now come directly into the league, and in essence the college community is saying we do not want those players anymore, that sort of tips the scale in my mind that we should be taking a serious look at lowering our age to 18.”
An injury to the No. 1 player in the country is certainly going to re-ignite that discussion in a big way — and perhaps bring about a creative route to a quicker resolution.