Zion Williamson gives high-fives to fans Oct. 11 after a preseason win over Utah

Zion Williamson says right knee is ‘getting stronger day by day’

by Jim Eichenhofer

Zion Williamson has proven to be a supremely talented and skilled basketball player, but the trait that will most be tested in the 19-year-old this month is his patience. On Thursday, the No. 1 overall draft pick acknowledged that he was disappointed to miss what would’ve been his official NBA debut Oct. 22 in Toronto – as well as all of New Orleans’ subsequent games – but he’s reminding himself that the 82-game regular-season schedule is extremely long.

“All the (Pelicans) vets have given great advice, even the young players,” Williamson said when asked what teammates have done to help him cope with being sidelined since Oct. 13 by a right knee injury. “(They say) don’t let this discourage me. Eighty-two games – it’s not like I’m even missing half of the season. Keep getting better day by day, and they’ll be ready for me.”

That mindset will come in handy for the Duke University product, because he will not be back in uniform until he completes his rehabbing process (he was ruled out for 6-8 weeks in mid-October). When New Orleans fifth-year head coach Alvin Gentry was asked specifically Thursday if Williamson might return to action in November, Gentry responded, “I think that’s very ambitious. So we’ll just see.”

The coach later added, “It’s not anything we would rush. We will make sure he’s healthy when we put him back on the court.”

Williamson has not traveled with the Pelicans to any of their four away games in the regular season.

“I was hurt (emotionally) at first, because I wasn’t able to go to the first game,” he said of the Oct. 22 road game on the Raptors’ championship ring night. “I haven’t been to any away games, because the team supports me and wants me to stay here (in New Orleans) and keep rehabbing, to come back as quickly as possible and be ready.”

It remains uncertain exactly when that will be, but Williamson said of his knee that “it’s getting stronger day by day. The trainers are telling me it’s getting stronger, and I can tell a difference.”

Williamson’s most recent action was the Oct. 13 preseason game at San Antonio, when he posted 22 points and 10 rebounds in 31 minutes. Although the Pelicans (1-6) witnessed some of the potential for the impact Williamson can make during preseason (23.2 ppg, 71 percent shooting), neither team nor player intends to rush the process of getting him healthy.

“It’s not even a conversation I need to have with them about it,” Williamson said, when asked how much he’s spoken to Gentry and David Griffin about his rehab process. “It’s a long season – this isn’t like college or something, where it’s 30 games. It’s 82 games. So I don’t really see a need to rush back.

“(It’s about) getting back to myself (physically). When (the New Orleans training staff feels) like I’m back to myself, they will let me play.”


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