Zion Williamson rises between Minnesota defenders Jake Layman (left) and James Johnson

Zion Williamson and stepfather spent every day of NBA hiatus on a basketball court

by Jim Eichenhofer

New Orleans rookie forward Zion Williamson is still a teenager, but he’s already savvy enough to realize that he’s not required to share every aspect of his training regimen with media members. Asked Thursday for specifics on where and how he was able to get on a basketball court every day of the NBA’s three-month hiatus, the 19-year-old smiled and replied, “I can’t tell you all of my secrets, man. I think I’ve got to keep that to myself.”

Williamson had just finished explaining to reporters that despite the ongoing pandemic, he and stepfather Lee Anderson held daily basketball sessions, gaining access to gyms at undisclosed locations. The workouts allowed the Pelicans’ second-leading scorer (23.6 ppg) to maintain a level of conditioning, even if he has not played in a five-on-five, fullcourt game since March 8 at Minnesota.

“Me and my stepdad just found different ways to stay in condition,” the Duke product said. “Wherever we could find it. On court, off court. Just try to find it. I feel like I’m in good shape right now. It was just me and my stepfather. I got to get on the court every day.”

That will likely benefit Williamson throughout this month, with New Orleans (28-36) traveling to Orlando next week and holding a multi-week “second training camp” in Central Florida, prior to facing Utah on July 30. The unprecedented circumstances of the NBA’s restart are another chapter in what’s probably been the strangest rookie season ever for a No. 1 overall draft pick. Williamson’s pro career began with an earthquake erupting during his summer league debut in Las Vegas; he was sidelined for 44 regular season games due to a knee injury, played in 19, then was forced off the hardwood again in mid-March by COVID-19.

“The last 12 months have been a different experience,” he said, shaking his head. “With the injury, all the different stuff going on. Not playing basketball as much as I’m used to. It’s been a crazy experience. But I stick with my family. My mom tells me, ‘Life is life. You may go through a lot of good times and bad times. Prepare yourself as best you can.’ For me, (the best way to do that is) sticking with my family.”

Despite just 19 appearances, Williamson has scored 448 points in 2019-20, ranking him 17th among NBA rookies (the three first-year pros just ahead of him on that list have played in 64, 50 and 57 games). He’s looking forward to being able to add to that total, as well as his 129 rebounds. More importantly, the Pelicans hope to achieve their season-long goal of reaching the NBA playoffs.

Earlier Thursday, New Orleans teammate Josh Hart offered his opinion that if Williamson had been able to play from Game 1 of the regular season, instead of not until Game 45, the Pelicans would already have clinched a postseason berth, instead of vying for one in Orlando.

“I think this can be a very special team,” Williamson said, when asked about NOLA’s potential. “It’s about us coming together, fighting those mental battles of being in the bubble (at Disney). If we can come together, we can do something really special.”

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