Zion Mania Ready to Hit Madison Square Garden | Zagsblog
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Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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Friday / July 19.
  • Zion Mania Ready to Hit Madison Square Garden

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    Zion Williamson has never played a game at Madison Square Garden.

    In fact, none of Duke’s heralded freshmen — Williamson, R.J. Barrett or Cam Reddish — has ever played at the World’s Most Famous Arena.

    But that will change on Thursday night when No. 2 Duke and Zion Mania meet No. 12 Texas Tech at the Garden (7 p.m., ESPN2).

    Fans at the game and those watching on TV will be waiting with baited breath for Williamson’s next set of highlight dunks and blocks.

    “There has never been anyone like Zion at any level,” ESPN’s Jay Bilas told The New York Times this week. “There has never been anyone of his size who can move like him.”

    The latest example of that came Tuesday night when the 6-foot-7, 285-pound Williamson and his 45-inch vertical leap elevated for this block against Princeton and hit his head on the backboard.

    Some 75 NBA scouts watched Williamson, Barrett and Reddish on opening night when they destroyed Kentucky by 34 points in the Champions Classic in Indianapolis. Among those on hand were Knicks President Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry.

    The Knicks (9-23) currently own the fifth-worst record in the NBA and have a 42 percent chance at a top-4 pick in the NBA Draft, and a 10.5 percent chance at the No. 1 overall pick, per Tankathon.com.

    Some segment of Knicks fans believe the team should go full-tilt tank in an effort to land Williamson or Barrett, the projected top-2 picks per ESPN and most mock drafts.

    But although they are fielding a very young team featuring rookies Allonzo Trier, Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson, the Knicks are not fully committed to “Stop Tryin’ for Zion” or to “Give It All Away for R.J.”

    “Tank?” Knicks coach David Fizdale said before the season began. “We will not ever tank.”

    That, of course, was before Zion truly established himself as Zion, an otherworldly force who is averaging 20.1 points and 9.1 rebounds while making the nightly rounds on SportsCenter’s Top 10.

    Because of his box-office appeal, some have speculated that Williamson could earn $1 billion over the course of his career, as I wrote for Forbes SportsMoney.

    Some have tried comparing Williamson to Charles Barkley, Rodney Rogers and even LeBron James.

    “He’s as strong as Shawn Kemp with the athleticism of David Thompson,” Michael Wilbon said Wednesday on ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption.”

    While these comparisons are fun, none are wholly accurate.

    “I think he is the most unique player that I’ve ever scouted,” 247Sports director of basketball recruiting Evan Daniels told Sporting News. “And I don’t think there is a comparison. I don’t think we’ve ever seen a player quite like him. If you just looked at him, you wouldn’t think the sport he plays is basketball.”

    Added a Western Conference scout: “I think you typically would like to have somebody you could point to as a model for his game, but this guy, his uniqueness prevents you from doing that. It’s not often you see a 280-pound guy be able to generate the raw power and explosion he does. It kind of puts him in his own little box. Or, in this case, a big box.

    “You just have to give up that area. There’s not a prototype or profile for him. That doesn’t make him a bad prospect or a great prospect. It doesn’t mean he’s going to fail or set a new trend. It just is what it is.”

    Knicks execs — and New York fans — will get an up-close look at Williamson on Thursday night when he plays his first game in the Big Apple.

    Barrett, who leads the team in scoring at 24.5 points per game with 7.1 rebounds, will also make his Garden debut.

    Let the Mania ensue.

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    Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle. A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.

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