LOUISVILLE (WAVE) — The Zion King and his Blue Devil All-Stars, the closest thing college basketball has to a rock-star band, brings its show to the KFC Yum! Center Tuesday night for…what?
A blowout win over the Louisville Cardinals? A show like the anticipated sellout crowd has never seen? A rare poor performance such as the ones turned in against Gonzaga on the road and Syracuse at home?
Regardless, you can bet Cardinal fans are approaching the game gingerly, more with Hunter S. Thompson’s fear and loathing than Muhammad Ali’s trademark confidence.
Loathing because, well, everyone in college basketball hates Duke, right? It is the legacy of Christian Laettner. But fear because, well, Coach Mike Krzyzewski has never had a player like Zion Williamson in his storied career in Durham.
The Zion King is 6-foot-7 and 285 pounds. His muscles have muscles. He dunks and rebounds with a ferocity that brings Lebron James to mind. He also plays tough interior defense, runs the floor and can feather in a jumper when necessary.
He’s already the Player of the Year, just go ahead and send the trophy to Durham. He also will be the No. 1 pick in this year’s NBA draft. Heck, he could be starting, and starring, in the pro league right now.
He is a force of nature surrounded by some natural forces. Fellow freshmen RJ Barrett, Tre Jones and Cam Reddish would individually be the headliners anywhere else. As it is, the 6-foot-7 Barrett leads the team in scoring, the 6-foot-2 Jones leads it in assists and the 6-8 Reddish does a little bit of everything well.
But good as they are, they are what the other Jacksons were to Michael. Or the Supremes to Diana Ross. Backups, in other words. Because The Zion King is the guy who owns the room soon as he walks into it.
When you face a player of his magnitude, it’s important for the defenders to refrain from getting mesmerized. Out of the corners of their eyes, they always are watching the star, waiting for him to do something amazing to them.
So it was with Maravich, Erving, Bird and Magic. So it is now with Lebron, Curry, Harden and Durant. And so it is with Zion, a wondrous combination of size, power, quickness and strength.
It will be interesting to see how UofL coach Chris Mack will try to defend him. One player can’t handle him. But double-teams open the way for one of others to go on a scoring binge. Zone defenses don’t bother him. What’s a poor coach to do?
Asked about Zion, Mack said, “Who?" Now that’s funny. That’s like to player who lined up next to Oscar Robertson in a 1959 Final Four game at Freedom Hall and said, “Hi, what’s your name?”
Even with the dispiriting overtime loss at Florida State on Saturday, the Cards are having a gloriously unexpected season. An upset of The Zion King and his Blue Devil All-Stars is not impossible. But it will take close to a perfect game to do it.
A lot of very good college basketball players have played in the Yum! Center since it opened a decade ago. But nobody quite like Zion has ever played here. Whatever the final score, you can bet it will be a night that will be remembered and savored around here at least as long as, oh, the night that Lady Gaga blew us all away.