The legend of Zion Williamson was born out of grainy footage shot on shaky cellphone cameras. It spread like a virus, infecting millions of social media users stupefied at what they were watching. Here was a 16-year-old whipping his body through the air for windmill dunks, 360 dunks, sometimes even 360 windmill dunks. He was a staple on SportsCenter by his junior year. Drake was wearing his high school jersey before he ever went to prom.
Williamson was already a national sensation before he arrived at Duke, but he was no sure thing in the eyes of NBA scouts. Most recruiting services ranked him as third best incoming freshman on his own team. That changed during his five months on campus in Durham, when Williamson pieced together the most thoroughly dominant season the modern era of college basketball has ever seen. At this point, there is no debate that Williamson will be the No. 1-overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft come June.
Williamson feels like the first superstar of the social media era, a player who transformed from a mixtape legend to a can’t-miss NBA stud before our eyes. His presence not only overshadowed his talented Duke teammates, but often times the institution of college basketball itself.
As he takes the next step in his career, it’s time to look back at how Williamson became larger than life. This is the journey that took him from humble beginnings in South Carolina to the brink of becoming the NBA’s next phenom.
Williamson’s birthday is July 6, 2000
He was born in Salisbury, North Carolina, to a mother who ran track at nearby Livingstone Collegeand a father who was recruited to play defensive line on the football field at NC State. He was named after Mount Zion in the bible.
Williamson and his mother would move to Spartanburg, South Carolina, when he was young, the town where he was raised. It was his mother who coached him early in his basketball career. When it was time for high school, he enrolled at Spartanburg Day School, a small private school known more for academics than athletics. This is where Williamson’s star would grow.
Williamson’s high school career began modestly
As a freshman, Williamson was reportedly a 6’3, 175-pound guard whose most prominent scholarship offer came from nearby Wofford College. As he entered high school, he played on a grassroots team with Ja Morant, the eventual Murray State superstar who may be taken No. 2-overall behind Williamson in the 2019 NBA Draft. At the time, no one realized the immense talent of either player.
As a high school sophomore, Williamson grew three inches and led Spartanburg Day School to a state championship. That’s when his profile started to blow up.
How Williamson became a high school star
Williamson’s ascent happened during spring grassroots (or “AAU”) sessions heading into his junior year. Playing in the Adidas league, he started to earn national acclaim after a breakout performance during a circuit stop in Atlanta, where he averaged 23.3 points and 12.3 rebounds in four games. He was suddenly considered a top-20 prospect in his class.
“My high school team, we don’t play a national schedule, so college coaches didn’t really come out, but after the second Adidas session in Atlanta, that’s when my college offers started to blow up,” Williamson told USA Today in 2016.
An early mixtape from spring 2016 shows just how under the radar Williamson was. The announcer couldn’t even pronounce his name correctly.