NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - Zion Williamson’s basketball prowess has been on display since he splashed on the scene as a freshman at Duke but on Wednesday in New York, the presumptive first overall pick put his charismatic personality on display.
The following are quotes from his media session, as transcribed by the NBA:
Q: What does it mean for you to be a role model to kids across the country?
Williamson: It means a lot to me because when I was a little kid I looked up to NBA players. So to know that I am in that position, it means a lot to me.
Q: If you could challenge one NBA player to a game of one-on-one, who would it be?
Williamson: I’m so competitive, it would probably be all of them.
Q: Walk us through your game and what you have improved on, worked on, your jump shot, in the past three, four months since you left Duke.
Williamson: Personally, I think I would say I got better with anything because I’m still 18 and I don’t ever want to be a finished product. My three-point shot improved a lot over the season. It started out a little rough but it improved a lot towards the end. And I think my ability to adjust to the game from high school to college changed a lot. I think one thing I’m good at is just my will to win. I feel like, when I want to win I’ll do whatever I need to do to win.
Q: Did you like New Orleans?
Williamson: The city was very welcoming. Everywhere I went, walking on the street, people high-fiving me saying they hope I come there. We went to this food place, I think it was called Commanders. I’ve been seeing some people saying that I got chicken tenders. No, that was my five-year old brother that did that. I got fried shrimp and mashed potatoes.
Q: Can you talk about your excitement for New Orleans and your potential to rebrand basketball there?
Williamson: Honestly, I just want to be in the NBA. I didn’t have a favorite team growing up. Just to be in the NBA is all I ask for. Whatever team I end up on, I know I’m going to give them my all.
Q: What current pros have you gotten closer with or talked to more throughout this process?
Williamson: It’s mostly been Duke players, because they’ll reach out and give me their advice on how to handle this and what to expect.
Q: Any particular piece of advice from a player?
Williamson: Just be myself and be the best version of me.
Q: How big is this draft for your home state of South Carolina for basketball with potentially three first round picks?
Williamson: It’s a lot for us, the state of South Carolina, it means a lot for us. For me, Ja [Morant] and Nicolas Claxton, South Carolina has had our back through it all since day one. So if all three of us get drafted, we’ll represent South Carolina.
Q: How have you dealt with the pressure and the hype of probably going number one?
Williamson: I don’t really see it as pressure. I’m doing what I love to do and that’s play basketball. And I don’t try to live up to anybody’s expectations. They can set them there, but I don’t feel like I have to live up to them. I’m just going to be me and be the best version of myself that I can be.
Q: Have you thought about that moment when your name is called and what is going to be going through your head.
Williamson: How have I not. I’ve been asked it so much but honestly I don’t know. I don’t know how I’m going to react. I don’t know if I’m going to cry, if I’m going to have this giant smile on my face. I guess we will see tomorrow night. But I know that I am very excited about it.
Q: What has it been like going through this process and dealing with all of the attention from media and fans and stuff like that?
Williamson: It’s been great. You know, it’s part of the job. This is part of being a professional athlete. It doesn’t really bother me. If you know me, I try to make everything fun. So it’s been fun for me.
Q: If there is one thing from your time at Duke with Coach K that you can carry with you for the rest of your career, what would that be?
Williamson: Just be me. Coach K, I don’t know how he does it. He has a way with words and makes you feel very confident in yourself. In tough games, when we are looking at him like, all right coach what do we do, he’ll just keep it as simple as possible and say just be yourself and we’ll be fine.
Q: What did you learn from your fellow teammates at Duke?
Williamson: I learned a lot from them. With RJ [Barrett] and how he carries himself with such a business-like mentality. With Cam [Reddish], how he carries himself with confidence. Cam walks into the room and he carries himself like he is the best player and I respect that about him. With Javin [DeLaurier], he is always prepared to risk it all for his teammates. Same for Jack [White], same for everybody on the team. I took a lot from everyone, but somebody that I took a lot from would be two people, Brennan Besser and Mike Buckmire. Brennan Besser, for somebody who knew he wasn’t going to play, I’ve never see someone with so much energy. Before we would go on to the court, Brennan is the most hyped person in the locker room. And then with Buck, he is just wise beyond his years. He’ll probably be giving me a pep talk like, just go out there and be yourself and get this W and win. So those two taught me a lot.
Q: After the lottery, when New Orleans got the number one pick, did David Griffin talk with you and your family about anything in particular that made you feel comfortable and what he kind of sold you on?
Williamson: Even though we all understood, this is a business, if they were to draft me, coming to New Orleans. They would try to make it not only about business but joining a family. So that is one thing I took away from that meeting.
Q: Looking at the moves they have made, does that give you hope going to an organization like the Pelicans, if they draft you?
Williamson: Honestly, I couldn’t tell you because I’m such a simple dude. I just want to hoop. Like, whether they made those changes or not, I’m still going out there. I’m just excited to be out there. I just want to play basketball pretty much.
Q: Have you done any research on Alvin Gentry and how he plays the game and how it would fit with you, assuming that is where you go?
Williamson: Yeah, the assistant coaches at Duke and Coach K have told me about him. They say he is a great coach. And Coach Gentry says he lets his players play. So if I go there, I think I’m going to like it.
Q: Any thoughts on Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram’s games?
Williamson: Lonzo, I think he is a great point guard. Very old school and I respect that about him. And Brandon Ingram, I think he’s a bucket getter. I think he can give you 25, 30 points a night in the right situation.
Q: On a scale of 1-10, how excited are you for tomorrow?
Williamson: 100. I mean, we dream about this day for so long and you don’t know if it is going to come true. I was talking to my agent’s assistant about this and he said, people say you’re lucky, but you made yourself lucky. The hard work, the sacrifice we made to be here, it gave us even just the opportunity to be here, let alone being taken number one.
Q: When you think about the greats that have been selected number one in the NBA Draft, what kind of honor will that be to you to be selected number one and join that group?
Williamson: It would be a huge honor. Knowing that a team would like to take me number one, you can’t dream this any better than that. Every kid dreams about being the number one pick. And if I have the honor of being selected one, it would be a huge honor, something I can’t really even put into words. I think my expression and body language will tell it all tomorrow night if I get drafted one.
Q: You’ve talked about your mom and your family and the role they have played in all of this. How have they impacted you?
Williamson: I mean, they have been everything. Even when people said I shouldn’t be playing basketball, I should be playing another sport, or the chances of me getting drafted are like slim to none. They looked at me and always told me I could do it. Ultimately, they said I’ve got to believe in myself. So I think without them telling me to believe in myself and pushing me to be better every day, I wouldn’t be in this situation.
Q: How are you going to celebrate tomorrow night?
Williamson: I’m a simple guy. I’ll probably go get some dinner with my family and then call it a night. I’m a really simple guy.
Q: You said growing up that you didn’t have a favorite team, but what players if any did you really follow?
Williamson: Well, my stepdad is old school, so he would tell me to go look at clips of Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. I mean, Michael Jordan, what I don’t think he gets enough credit for is his defense. Jordan could guard the best of them and I respect that so much. I’ve never seen someone be able to walk into an NBA game, drop 40, and make it look so easy. I loved watching Michael Jordan.