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Zion Williamson and Duke's 2018 Recruiting Class

Zion Williamson
Basketball prodigies are nothing new, with young men being described as "the future of the sport" year in, year out. The rise of social media and the Internet has only made it easier for fans to follow some of the young stars across the country, which has made forward Zion Williamson a well-known name in the basketball world before he even plays college ball. A game between Williamson and the youngest Ball brother, La'Melo, drew an online audience of over 80,000 at one point, and Williamson's powerful dunking antics are all over YouTube. This past weekend, Williamson, rated the No. 2 player in the 2018 recruiting class, announced he would commit to Duke, spurning in-state schools Clemson and South Carolina, along with blue bloods of the sport, such as Kentucky and UNC. The addition of Williamson now gives Duke the top three recruits in the nation in the 2018 recruiting cycle (not to mention guard Tre Jones, rated as the nation's 12th best player by ESPN). It will be one of the best collections of pure talent we have ever seen on a college basketball court, but does come with certain questions. How will Coach K handle three players that play similar positions, and need the ball to be effective? How will the Blue Devils handle the huge expectations and major hype that is sure to follow them? And most importantly, will Williamson and company produce the way we expect? Those are important questions, but the legendary coach on the sideline should be smart and innovative with how he deals with them.

Williamson, a 6'6" power forward out of Spartanburg, South Carolina, joins R.J. Barrett (nation's No. 1 player) and Cam Reddish (No.3 player) to form perhaps the greatest recruiting class in college basketball history. Barrett, who hails from Canada, already has a well-rounded offensive game while Reddish, who is out of Pennsylvania, is sensational at attacking the rim in a variety of ways. The first thing you'll notice about the trio is the fact they all play basically the same position. Reddish and Barrett both play small forward and stand at the same recorded height, while Williamson is more of a tweener who can play either forward spot. This could be an issue in terms of playing time and minutes, but basketball's shift more towards small-ball could be a perfect fit for this team. Barrett and Reddish can easily slide into either the shooting guard or small forward slot, while Williamson, who plays bigger than his 6'6" frame may suggest, could fit in at power forward, allowing all three to start and maximize their minutes. The bigger question is going to be getting the ball to all three. All of them have been the unquestioned stars of their respective high school teams, so transitioning to a team where they will be expected to share the ball and play as a team will be different. The good news is that this is not a new problem for Coach K and Duke. They have had crazy amounts of talent on their roster before and been able to manage it. The key will be for the players to recognize the importance of sharing the ball and improve on some of the fundamental aspects of the game; such as making effective cuts and crashing the offensive glass. This will enable them to get the ball and make things happen, even if they aren't necessarily touching it all the time. It would also help if Reddish and Williamson improved as shooters, which would spread the floor and open up lanes for others to work with.

Even in college basketball, a sport that has parity unlike any other major sport, people will expect this Duke team to roll to a National Title, and anything else will be considered a disappointment. That is a lot to ask of a team of 19 and 20-year olds, but that is the way basketball is nowadays. It is impossible to say how possible that will be when we still have months left in the current '17-'18 season, but we do know one thing: the three won't be able to do it all on their own. They will need a strong supporting cast, and hopefully one with some veterans on it. We know for a fact senior Grayson Allen will be gone, as will likely No. 1 pick Marvin Bagley, but it will be interesting to see what else stays in Durham past these next few months. Freshmen Gary Trent, Wendell Carter and Trevon Dural have all put together great seasons, but it isn't unreasonable to think maybe one or two of them could be back. Any number of players from Duke's bench should return for next year, namely Javin DeLaurier and Alex O'Connell. This will be critical because it should not only ensure this team has a good amount of depth, it will provide them with some stability and overall experience. Navigating the crazy and chaotic world of college basketball is a tall task no matter who you are, so having a strong supporting cast will play a major role in deciding whether this team evolves into a true National Title favorite or disappoints.

As mentioned earlier, these three recruits still have plenty of things they need to improve on to round out their game. For Williamson, we know how great of a dunker he is and what he can bring on the defensive end, but growing into a more effective shooter and shot creator will be pivotal in his development. Barrett and Reddish must also continue to improve as shooters, and also will have to prove they can be great distributors and defenders. This team shouldn't have too much trouble scoring, but if they can't do the other aspects of the game effectively, they won't get very far. Expectations will be enormous and the pressure will be overwhelming on these kids. However, the trio knew what they were signing up for when they committed to Duke, and they seem to realize how important the Duke brotherhood is. Big things are coming for this team and no matter what happens, it will be absolutely fascinating to see how things all go down.
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