DURHAM, N.C. — Top-ranked Duke said Thursday night that freshman Zion Williamson is day to day with a mild right knee sprain.

A team spokesman said Williamson is progressing as expected after injuring his knee when his left shoe ripped apart as he slipped while dribbling during the first minute of Wednesday night’s loss to No. 8 North Carolina.

The 280-pound Williamson, one of the most powerful players in the game, tried to plant his left foot as his right foot was slipping. The blue rubber sole ripped loose from the white shoe and Williamson’s foot came all the way through the large gap.

He ended up in an awkward almost-split, clutching the back of his right knee. He walked to the bench and a few minutes later headed to the locker room, leaving the wrecked shoe under his chair.

Playing before a crowd littered with celebrities – from Spike Lee to former President Barack Obama – Williamson was hurt when his Nike PG 2.5, from Oklahoma City Thunder star Paul George’s signature sneaker line, tore apart. Williamson wears that model frequently during games and hadn’t had any obvious problems.

George said Thursday that he has talked with Nike to see what went wrong and what happened to the shoe.

“It hasn’t happened to me as long as I’ve been in this shoe,” George said. “We’ve made three generations, going on four now of my shoe, of being successful. So I didn’t necessarily feel any way about that part – the negative part of it. My only concern was for Zion, honestly.”

The injury also set off a fresh round of debate about whether Williamson, the possible No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft, should he leave Duke after his freshman season, would be wise to end his college season in an attempt to avoid an injury that could jeopardize his pro career. NBA Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen made the case for it a month ago, saying on ESPN that “I would shut it down.”

Asked to respond on Feb. 5 to those comments, Williamson turned to his locker-room sidekick, walk-on Mike Buckmire, and asked, “Buck, would you hate me if I shut down the season?

“I couldn’t do that to my teammates,” Williamson continued. “Again, thank you for, like, seeing the confidence in me and the type of player I can become. But I love college too much to stop playing. I wouldn’t give this up.”

Now that he’s actually been hurt, it’s unknown if his feelings have changed.

It’s also unclear, if he decides to continue his college career, whether Williamson has an insurance policy to protect him in case of injury, which numerous other elite college athletes have purchased.


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