It’s become almost standard operating procedure within scholastic basketball that if you’re a nationally-ranked player, you leave your local high school at the first opportunity, transferring somewhere to become teammates with fellow top-tier talents. Zion Williamson and his family chose the path less traveled.
“Zion stayed at a small school for high school, Spartanburg Academy (in South Carolina), because his mother told him, ‘If you can play, the coaches will find you anywhere,’ ” Pelicans Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin said at Friday’s press conference introducing the NBA’s No. 1 overall draftee. “ ’But you stay grounded, you stay with your friends and you be Zion.’
“That obviously worked. What it did is it laid the groundwork for a kid who is all about others, who is all about team, all about family and he’s not about himself. The reason that is so meaningful for us is that’s all we want to build (in New Orleans).”
On a day Williamson had described the night before as Day 1 for him in his new “home,” there was very little basketball-specific discussion. Instead, the focus from Griffin, Pelicans Owner Gayle Benson and fifth-year head coach Alvin Gentry was on the traits that make Williamson an invaluable building block as New Orleans builds a team.
“It’s an honor to have the opportunity to coach a player like Zion,” Gentry said. “And not just from the standpoint of his ability, but the character he has. When you start to try to turn a franchise into a consistent winner, you’ve got to have the talent, but you have to have people with the character he has. Adding him into the mix, along with people like Jrue Holiday, I think we’re well on our way to doing that… He’s a tremendous guy, and he’s all about the team.”
For his part, Williamson has started to seem at least slightly embarrassed by all of the praise and attention he has been receiving over the past few days. At one point, he noted that his favorite aspect of his brief time in New Orleans so far has been reminiscent of his background.
“Just the family feel,” Williamson said. “Just walking around, people here are welcoming. They just told me, ‘You’re going to love the city. Everyone here is family.’ That’s the vibe I’ve been getting.”