Column: There’s Plenty of Room for Zion

With Zion Williamson’s announcement set for Saturday at 8 p.m., it’s only fitting to talk about what the 2018-19 Tar Heels look like should he take his talents to Chapel Hill.  

247 Sports predicts the 6-foot-7, 270-pound small forward will choose Clemson, but — as fate often intervenes — Clemson lost another game in Chapel Hill on Tuesday, dropping its all-time record in the Southern Part of Heaven to 0-59.

Could the game have pushed him away from the Tigers and toward the Tar Heels? Could Williamson join fellow South Carolinians Seventh Woods and Jalek Felton at UNC? 

There’s certainly a chance, and there’s certainly a role for him.   

NCAA Rules Regarding Scholarships 

Before we talk about Williamson’s impact on the lineup, let’s clarify the scholarship rules. 

On any given NCAA Basketball Division-1 roster, the university is permitted to grant 13 athletic scholarships. Shea Rush, a preferred walk-on, received an athletic scholarship for the 2017-18 season, though he will more than likely return to walk-on status come the new semester as Roy Williams’ 2018 recruiting class already has three members: Coby White, Rechon “Leaky” Black and Nassir Little (two additional scholarships will free up upon the graduation of Theo Pinson and Joel Berry).   

Should each member of the 2017-18 team play out their eligibility — that is, no Tar Heels decide to play professionally or transfer to another university — Roy Williams will have no scholarship left to offer Zion Williamson, right?

The math is there. 13 scholarship players for 13 scholarships. Three walk-ons ready for biscuit duty. A 14th scholarship remains for the dunking virtuoso, somehow. And he might commit Saturday.

If you think the additon of a scholarship is impossible, here’s what I’ll tell you:

If Williams couldn’t free up an additional scholarship, there would not be an offer sitting among Williamson’s self-selected handful of options.

From Where Will Scholarship No. 14 Come?

Let’s take a ride back to the past for a brief moment: Wes Miller, a scrappy and undersized player who stepped up big-time after his team won a national championship, played at UNC from 2004-07. 

Sounds like a particular bearded Tar Heel of the junior class, right?   

For his senior season, Miller gave up his scholarship so that Williams could bring in quite the recruiting class, which consisted of Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington, Will Graves, Deon Thompson, Brandan Wright and Alex Stephenson.

Think of the glorious PR that Carolina basketball would receive from ESPN and other major media outlets. Think of UNC attempting to garner as much positive light as possible following the dismissal of the NCAA case regarding academic fraud. Think of the future headlines:

"Elite Eight hero and All-American Luke Maye gives up scholarship for Zion Williamson"

People would eat it up.

Maye, the former preferred walk-on, giving up his scholarship is only a possibility. But if Williamson comes to Chapel Hill, someone will have to give up a scholarship — a good problem to have, really. 

Should Zion Williamson commit to UNC, Roy Williams will have to free up a scholarship. Could Luke Maye volunteer to give his up for Williamson? | Photo by Smith Hardy

Should Zion Williamson commit to UNC, Roy Williams will have to free up a scholarship. Could Luke Maye volunteer to give his up for Williamson? | Photo by Smith Hardy

Depth Charts: Without Zion and With Zion 

Even if Williamson doesn’t choose Carolina, Williams have more than a handful of capable players from which to choose. 

This is what the absolutely stacked depth chart might look like:

FullSizeRender.jpg

Should Williamson decide to commit to UNC, he’d likely start for the Tar Heels. The 6-foot-7, 270-pound forward gets the nod as a stretch four, forcing Luke Maye to stay at center. He could use his frame, though short, to establish his presence in the paint.

The addition of Williamson could mean another year of frequent small-ball lineups, a tactic Roy Williams has used more frequently as of late. Here’s what that even-more-absolutely stacked depth chart might look like:

FullSizeRender.jpg

One might point to a particular Kentucky team of a few years back that nearly ran the table using a five-man platoon system. Could Williams employ such a tactic, essentially using two separate teams? It’s doubtful.

The seasoned coach prefers to play things his way — run, run, run, run and run, without set lineups beyond his starters — and, after the success he’s found since his return to Chapel Hill, who could blame him?

Should Williamson decide on UNC, the Tar Heels could have its deepest roster since Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington decided to return for the 2008-09 campaign.

Imagine it: Jalek Felton dribbles the ball up the court, elusively spinning past a defender at mid-court. He passes the ball to Kenny Williams at the wing for an open three. Williams, drawing a defender, pump fakes and decides to drive.

As he slashes to the basket, the defensive help transitions over to guard the basket. The veteran Williams dishes the ball to Zion Williamson, who stampedes through the paint with nothing but oxygen between himself and the iron, viciously slamming the ball through the hoop, electrifying even the wine-and-cheesers in the Dean Dome. 

He’d play with veteran Tar Heels who could ease his move to the next level. He’d play in a fast-paced offense that emphasizes transition. He could connect with an ample amount of pros who have found success at the next level. Couldn’t you spend weeks imagining a battle between Williamson and Tyler Hansbrough during a summertime pickup game?  

His dunks could absolutely demolish the spirits of a Clemson team looking to avoid 0-60 in Chapel Hill, or any other opponent to take to the hardwood against next season’s Tar Heels. 

Williamson fits the Tar Heels, and the Tar Heels fit him.

Notably, signee Coby White explained to Williamson why to join him in Chapel Hill in a video produced by USA Today:  

“Come join the best blue blood and the best school in the nation, bro,” White said. “With me, you, Leaky and Nassir coming in, that’d be an unstoppable class.” 

Photo by Allison Schaefer

Photo by Allison Schaefer

While unstoppable might be a stretch, White has a point. The class would arguably be Williams’ most impressive should Williamson decide on the Tar Heels.

”They might as well count us in for the national championship right now,” White said. “Build relationships with coaches and players that last forever. That’s something that will never fade away.”

White then ended his message to Williamson.  

“We’re all going to eat. We’re all going to kill. But, if you want to come be a winner, you know what to do: come to UNC-Chapel Hill.” 

And here’s the thing: despite a loaded roster for the 2018-19 Tar Heels, in terms of talent and scholarships, the offer still stands for the phenom. 

There’s plenty of room for Zion.

@brycelessgem