Zion Williamson: ‘One on One’ Phenomenon Returns After Long Stay in Lab and Rehab | NBA News


Zion Williamson is back and the 22-year-old thinks he’s better than he’s ever been.

Despite the vast array of talent that will be on display at Barclays Center on Wednesday night, most eyes will be on the New Orleans Pelicans forward as he makes his long-awaited return to NBA basketball.

For Williamson, the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, the ability was never in question, but his conditioning became one of the hottest talking points among NBA fans after Photos have emerged of him apparently bloating with weight after suffering a broken foot followed by a rehabilitation setback that kept him out of action for the whole of last season.

It’s been almost a year and a half since we’ve seen his towering, devastated powerhouse on an NBA basketball court. Before missing last season, Williamson made the sublime look easy in New Orleans, averaging 27 points and 7.2 rebounds per game in 2020.

If he can get to that level again, that automatically turns New Orleans into a very credible threat. But it’s been a long road back for Williamson. Having suffered the shock of a fierce reaction to his perceived poor conditioning – in the midst of a long and difficult rehabilitation, which is hard enough for any young player – Zion is ready to show the world what he has been missing.

New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson reacts after scoring a field goal and being fouled by Detroit Pistons center Isaiah Stewart during preseason

While that’s not his motivation to return to NBA All-Star level play, it’s just what he sees as his mission.

“I grew up,” Williamson said Sports Illustrated. “I learned a lot about myself, I learned more about the game.

“If you had asked me two years ago, I would definitely have said, ‘Yeah, I have to remind people. I have to show the world who Zion is.” But now, after this trip, it’s not even so much about showing the world who I am. It’s more just about proving myself right.

In December last year, tests showed a regression in the healing of his broken foot, just when he thought he was about to return to play, after what was already a long layoff , and he admits that the severity of the criticism that came his way and his family’s path was almost too much to bear.

“I was in rehab and in my mind I was like ‘man, in two weeks I’m about to play again’. And then I didn’t,” Williamson said.

His mother, stepfather and brother, Noah, who was just eight at the time, were enveloped in the backlash – which included pundits like former colleague JJ Redick calling him a ‘detached teammate’ .

“To see it affect my family, it weighed on me,” Williamson said. “An eight-year-old child having to deal with things like that, being asked questions that he doesn’t fully understand yet, that’s a lot. It even bothers me that people do that to him.

“I felt helpless. There was nothing I could do about it. While [pundits] tell me that I don’t care about my teammates, or that I’m a bad teammate, or that I don’t want to be somewhere, all the time I worry about my foot. I worry about [hoping] my foot is healing well, because if not, who knows, maybe I won’t be able to play basketball anymore.”

Much of Williamson’s criticism as a teammate stemmed from his not immediately contacting CJ McCollum when the Pels handed out rookies and draft picks to acquire the talented shooter from the Portland Trail Blazers.

The truth may not be what it first seemed. Williamson was recovering in isolation, focusing on getting his body back in shape, and any detachment seems to have been for the purpose of building everything together to become the best version of himself come game time on Wednesday night.

“Very active, very committed, very involved, very aware of what’s going on,” was how McCollum described his young teammate, before adding: “But he also understands that it’s now up to him to do the things right, keep eating the right way, doing the job the right way.

“I think he’s now at that stage where he takes responsibility for his actions. Change has to come, and change has to come from him. And he knew that.

“The best version he can give us will be the best version of our team.”

New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson (1) watches a shoot before Game 6 of an NBA first-round basketball playoff series against the Phoenix Suns, Friday, April 29, 2022 at New -Orleans.  (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson watches a shootout before Game 6 of last season’s first-round playoff series against the Phoenix Suns

Zion has relied heavily on the Pelicans support and coaching staff to ensure he doesn’t crumble in his darkest hours and the result is a player who is hungrier than ever to fulfill his stratospheric potential.

They picked him up when he was feeling down and alongside the Pels support staff and with his own training regime thrown in for good measure, the striker now looks leaner and more sculpted and would have clocked speed test times than some NBA guards. can’t even match.

It’s an extremely attractive prospect as Williamson prepares to play his first competitive basketball in 17 months.

On the other side of the room will be a former MVP who recognizes what it is like to be the butt of criticism and that people (although for entirely different reasons) thought he could never. succeed because of its setting.

“You’ve seen guys this size, 6-7, who can get up and down off the floor and move – but not at this level, though,” Kevin Durant said. “You’ve seen guys like Jason Maxiell. I’m not saying they jump as high as Zion, but they were undersized guys playing bigger. And Zion is one of those guys.

Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant
Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant is a huge fan of Zion Williamson

“Rodney Rogers – I miss so many guys who were this big at 6-6, Charles Barkley, killer type guys but played bigger. But Zion’s athleticism far outweighs all of theirs. When you add that to the mix, it makes him unique.”

The Pelicans have certainly shown their faith in Williamson with a contract extension worth at least $193 million, announced in July, but which includes weight and body fat requirements as a caveat.

“I guess there’s some difficulty with that: which Sion do you get?” Nets coach Steve Nash said. “But I think you’d be silly not to expect an exceptional player. He’s so talented and gifted. He causes problems for everyone, no matter, I think, what state his body and his game are in. He’s still such a unique and playful athlete.

“So we have to be prepared. We can’t expect anything less than his best or we’ll be surprised and we’ll be second. And when you’re reactive, you’re in trouble.”

Williamson rolled his left ankle a week ago against the Miami Heat but said after the game he was fine. As a precaution, the Pelicans held Williamson out of their final preseason game on Friday and restricted him to practice on Sunday.

New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson (1) celebrates with teammate Brandon Ingram
New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson, right, celebrates with teammate Brandon Ingram

On Monday, Williamson completed a full practice and said “I’m playing Wednesday,” when asked if he was available for the season opener.

“I haven’t really been able to fully practice [on Sunday] because they were taking precautionary measures, but the last two days of training have been intense. I think it’s been great for our team building, and I think we’re ready for the season.”

Monday was one of the few practices the Pelicans have had since training camp opened when the five scheduled starters — Williamson, McCollum, Brandon Ingram, Jonas Valanciunas and Herb Jones — were all available. The fourth-year phenom believes that getting the whole group together at the perfect time could prove very important ahead of the clash with Brooklyn, which boasts the power of Durant, Kyrie Irving and another player looking to prove himself in the league again to Ben Simmons.

“I think it was very important to us,” Williamson said. “You don’t want to just go out in the first game feeling like an outsider. We had a great practice. It was intense. I’m just excited for Wednesday.”

Watch the New Orleans Pelicans @ Brooklyn Nets, live on Sky Sports Arena and Main Event late Wednesday night starting at 12:30 a.m.


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