LEXINGTON, Ky. — Heading into 5-star forward Zion Williamson’s official visit to Kentucky this weekend, a new challenger has emerged in the Wildcats’ pursuit of 247Sports’ No. 1 overall prospect in the Class of 2018. And it’s an unexpected one.
“I think [Kentucky is] neck-and-neck with Clemson,” said Andrew Slater, national recruiting analyst for 247. “I know it sounds crazy, but the reality is that Clemson is in a desperate position to land someone of Zion’s stature — it could frankly save Brad Brownell’s job — his mother doesn’t want him to go away to school and they’ve done a very good job of recruiting him.”
Williamson, a 6-foot-7, 250-ish-pound dunking machine, is from Spartanburg, S.C., and his stepfather, who also coaches his AAU team, played at Clemson. Slater said that multiple conversations with basketball insiders in The Palmetto State have led him to believe there’s a very real possibility he stays home.
Like the Tigers, Frank Martin and the in-state Gamecocks have wisely focused on that pitch to the family. It might be working for Clemson.
Earlier this summer, buzz about Williamson shifted from Kentucky to Kansas — which is expecting an official visit from him on Sept. 30 — but “the distance factor will hurt Kansas,” Slater said. “The mom has become sort of adamant she doesn’t want him to go far. They’re going to have to overcome that on the visit, if it gets that far. There’s potential Zion could could commit before that visit. That’s what should scare a lot of staffs.”
Not John Calipari and the the Cats, however. The timing of Williamson’s trip to Lexington (on the same day his good friend and 5-star point guard Immanuel Quickley is expected to announce a commitment to Kentucky) is fortuitous.
“I thought that was very important slotting,” Slater said, “because despite all the fame and everything, he’s not looking for more. He knows he’s going to get plenty of attention whenever he announces and he isn’t a kid who needs to prolong it until the spring. There’s definitely a possibility that he could commit very soon.”
Williamson still has official visits scheduled to Duke (Oct. 20) and UCLA (Oct. 27) as well, but the Cats will try to close the deal before those programs — or the Tigers and Gamecocks — get a chance to sway him.
“I thinking going into this weekend, you have to say [Kentucky is] at least tied, if not ahead,” Slater said. The in-state threat is real, but “they have a legacy, and not just with John Calipari, of success with elite-level players. And Zion is comfortable playing under the pressure of so much scrutiny that he’s received over the last year. Where some people may shrink from it, Zion can cope with it and function well.”
Slater also believes Williamson is genuinely drawn to the idea of playing with a friend and unselfish point guard like Quickley. The two have openly discussed a desire to team up in college.
“The only reason for Clemson’s inclusion is he’s very proud of being from South Carolina,” Slater said, “and there’s a family pull there.”
Translation: Calipari might not leave his mother’s side for the entire weekend.