DURHAM, N.C. — The shoe fail seen around the world leaves Duke’s lineup in limbo for two tough ACC road games but not likely for the remainder of the season.Zion Williamson’s left Nike shoe ruptured 36 seconds into the No. 1 Blue Devils’ 88-72 loss to No. 8 North Carolina Wednesday night, sending him to the court holding his right knee in pain.
The injury was diagnosed as a Grade 1 sprain, according to a statement released by Duke on Thursday. Williamson’s status was listed as “day-to-day.”
Averaging 21.6 points per game, the 6-foot-7, 285-pound Williamson is a big reason the Blue Devils (23-3, 11-2 ACC) were atop the national rankings and the betting favorite to win the NCAA championship prior to Wednesday night’s loss.
An extended absence by Williamson could change all that, especially considering Duke plays at Syracuse on Saturday and at Virginia Tech on Tuesday.
But even as video clips of his slip and fall raced around the internet, Williamson walked under is own power from Duke’s bench area back to the locker room to be examined by the team’s medical staff. The initial diagnosis coach Mike Krzyzewski shared Wednesday night was the knee was stable, an indication the ligaments are intact and no surgery will be required.
Sprained knees, even deemed grade one or mild where the ligament is stretched but not torn, can take up to two weeks to heal.
That timeframe could allow Williamson to return before the end of the regular season, allowing him to play in the ACC and NCAA tournaments.
The freshman phenom’s NBA future will play a factor in his return as well. Williamson is projected by many draft analysts to be the No. 1 pick in the June draft. He only has a maximum of five regular-season, four ACC and six NCAA tournament games remaining at this point before he can turn professional.
Over the years, Krzyzewski has always said the team won’t put a player back on the court when doing so exposes him to a more serious injury because he is compromised.
Krzyzewski talked about Williamson on his weekly radio on Thursday.
“There hasn’t been anyone close to having the attention, and well-deserved attention, as a player than Zion (Williamson). He’s been absolutely dynamic, mesmerizing … Zion will get proper care. He’s getting it today, as this moves along these next 24, 48 hours, we’ll have a better feel for things, but there’s no rush. You want to make sure he’s completely at 100 percent. We know we’re an NCAA (Tournament) team. We’ve won 23 games with great competition, and we’re going to keep moving on, but we want to be – want to make sure we’re at 100 percent when we enter that one-and-done period called March Madness.”
This isn’t Williamson’s first injury this season. On Jan. 12 he was poked in the eye during the first half of a game at Florida State. He suffered from double vision and was held out of play in the second half of a game Duke won 80-78.
Once the vision cleared, he played two days later against Syracuse.
Williamson and his family will be consulted before he returns to play following this knee injury.
In the meantime, Duke prepares to play in front of a Carrier Dome crowd numbering 35,000 at Syracuse on Saturday night without him.
“I just hope that we can get him back out on the court as soon as possible and get him healthy,” Duke junior forward Jack White said after the UNC loss. “You hate to see a guy that young go down, especially in a game like this. It would’ve been one he’s wanted to play in his whole life.”
Williamson not only is second on the team in scoring behind RJ Barrett’s 23.1 points but he leads Duke in rebounding (8.8 per game) and steals (57). He’s second in blocked shots (49) to Marques Bolden’s 51.
Duke started the second half against North Carolina on Wednesday night with 6-5 sophomore guard Alex O’Connell (4.0 points, 1.6 rebounds) on the court while Williamson was out.
“We’ve never played a game without him so it was tough,” Barrett said. “We had to try and re-adjust on the fly, and (North Carolina) really got the better of us today. He’s a dominant player. For him to be out, we really have to try to figure out different things, maybe play me at the four, and maybe go bigger.”