Jim Hawkins/Inside Carolina

Top Target Zion Williamson Takes In 'Amazing’ Night at UNC

Elite junior attended North Carolina's win over Duke.

The third trip to Chapel Hill for Zion Williamson was vastly different from the rest.

Instead of a North Carolina exhibition game at the beginning of the season against UNC-Pembroke, it was the regular-season Tar Heel finale against Duke. Instead of a swath of empty seats in the upper decks, the Smith Center was at capacity long before tipoff. Instead of not being televised, the game was on ESPN for millions around the country to watch.

"The atmosphere," Zion explained, "was amazing. It's a rivalry game and it has a great tradition. The fans were unbelievable."

Williamson, UNC's top target in the junior class, was accompanied by his parents and his high school coach.

"I was watching both teams just to see how they run their offenses and how they run their defenses," explained Williamson. "For me, the atmosphere is great and everything but in the end i'm still looking for a college coach that me and my family have the best relationship with. That's very important to me."

Williamson stayed for the senior night speeches, hanging with friends Jalek Felton, Rechon "Leaky" Black and Jairus Hamilton before heading to the UNC player's lounge and meeting with Roy Williams.

Two weeks ago -- the day before and after UNC's win over Louisville -- Williams twice watched Williamson in the South Carolina state playoffs.

"He (Williams) was just saying how high I am on his list and how he likes the all-around player I've become," said Williamson. "He said he just loves the relationship we've built since he started recruiting me last summer. We do have a really good relationship. When he came and saw me, at first I didn't know he was coming, but the crowd pointed him out for me of course. I was happy to see him there, especially for playoff games. I know he has a really busy schedule and he took the time to come down for two of my games."

Prior to meeting with Williams, Williamson spent time with Felton, Black and Hamilton. He said he shares a special bond with both Felton and Black.

"Me and Jalek have always talked about how we were going to put South Carolina on the map," Williamson said. "People keep underrating South Carolina, saying that our basketball isn't that good, so we're going to keep doing that. (Also) shoutout to (UNC freshman guard) Seventh Woods, because he kind of started it for us."

"Leaky is like my brother," continued Williamson. "We got close last year and talk all the time. They (Jalek and Leaky) were telling me to come join the family, come play with my bros and the best atmosphere in college basketball."

While he didn't get to talk to or take a picture with Michael Jordan, Williamson savored the moment. He was shown several times during ESPN's broadcast recording Jordan's halftime speech.

"Being in his presence, one of the greatest players of all time, probably the greatest player of all time, just listening to him talk, that was a dream come true," said Williamson.

Another dream come true for Williamson is the national media attention he's received for his dominant junior season filled with spectacular dunks. A few days ago, he was interviewed live on SportsCenter.

"I was surprised they called my parents and wanted to do it," said Williamson. "Words can't describe it, knowing that ESPN wants to do a personal interview with me. I'm just 16 years old, i don't know what else i can ask for. At first I wasn't able to do the interview because it was a school night, so we rescheduled to a weekend when I was free."

Though it might be overwhelming for some - coaches calling constantly, daily interview requests, signing autographs - it's not for Williamson.

"I embrace it," he said of his stardom. "This is the life I've been working and training for since I was four years old. Seeing it all pay off is just a good feeling, knowing i can walk out of the house or go to the store and someone is going to recognize me. It's thrilling because I'm only 16."


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