As the saying goes, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
For New Orleans Pelicans rookie forward Zion Williamson, there has been a slightly different take on that.
In the quarantined style of life to which many have had to adapt during the coronavirus pandemic, Williamson says, “With a goal, there’s a way. So hoop.”
Williamson made the comments on the NBA’s Twitter feed in an interview with TNT’s Ernie Johnson. Williamson talked about staying in shape in case the NBA resumes the season and added that it wouldn’t take him long to be prepared to play.
“Honestly, I’m ready now,” Williamson said. “I’ve been staying in shape, working on myself and just staying ready. You never know when the time is going to come when they’re going to say, ‘All right, let’s resume.’ I don’t want to have to look around at my teammates and say, ‘Sorry, guys, I’m not ready.’ So I’m staying ready for my teammates.”
Williamson said he has a basketball goal at his house in New Orleans — where he has stayed throughout the quarantine — and has gotten his shots up to stay ready.
The Pelicans have sent workout equipment to players’ houses, and they are participating in Zoom workouts with the team’s strength and conditioning staff.
Williamson has played in only 19 games this season because of a meniscus injury that prevented him from making his NBA debut until Jan. 22. He said he looks at the stoppage of the season from two different perspectives.
“It sucks because I had just come back after sitting three, four months without playing basketball or playing in an NBA game,” he said. “As soon as I felt like I was getting going, this happens. It sucks from that perspective. But I think it’s a good thing because it gives me extra time to work on my knee and work on my body overall.”
When the season was suspended, the Pelicans were 3½ games back of the eighth spot in the Western Conference playoffs. Williamson played a key role in the Pelicans’ — who were once 7-23 — getting back into the playoff race.
In his 19 games, Williamson averaged 23.6 points and 6.8 rebounds while shooting 58.9% from the field. Those numbers were enough to lift him into the NBA Rookie of the Year race, though Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant is still the overwhelming favorite.
Williamson and Morant were AAU teammates for a year and, as South Carolina natives, are still close. Williamson said he’d be happy for Morant to win, but his competitive side is still shining through.
“He’s worked for that. He’s earned that. I give respect when it’s due. I always do,” Williamson said. “But, you know, as a competitor, I’m just a competitor. I want to win at everything. I’m not going to say I don’t want to win. I want to win at everything. My goal was if I could rally my team into the playoffs, hopefully I could’ve made a run for it. But it’s just God’s plan at this point. If Ja wins it, I’ll be happy for Ja. He’s my brother.”
Besides trying to stay in shape, Williamson has made sure to watch the ESPN docuseries “The Last Dance” in his downtime.
When he was growing up, his mother, Sharonda Sampson, told him to watch film of three players: Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan. Jordan’s highlights in particular stuck out to Williamson, who signed with Jordan’s shoe brand once he turned professional.
“When I started watching Mike, it was just, even though I wasn’t alive when he was doing those things, it just captured me,” Williamson said.
“Everything he did was just incredible. His highlights are like, ‘Man, somebody was doing all that?’ And the way he flew through the air, dunked on pretty much anybody, his midrange shot, his playmaking, his defensive ability — everything he brought to the table.
“And the one thing he said that really stands out to me is, he plays like somebody’s watching him for the first time, and he doesn’t want to disappoint.”
Williamson said there was another thing that stuck out for him while he watched the documentary.
“Just the leader he was. You knew he was a leader, but he just — he’s a leader, but he put in the most work. He would always work the hardest, in practice and in games. So it just shows how much of a leader he was.”