When Zion Williamson’s New Orleans Pelicans meet R.J. Barrett’s New York Knicks on the first day of the NBA Summer League at UNLV on July 5, 9:30 ET (ESPN), it will mark the first ever time the former Duke teammates have squared off on opposite teams.
Williamson was the No. 1 pick in last Thursday’s draft, and Barrett was selected No. 3 overall.
Hard to believe they’d never met up as foes since both players rode similar hype machines in high school; Barrett was ranked No. 1 overall in the 2018 class, Zion checked in at No. 2.
So how did they unintentionally dodge the marquee matchup?
Barrett played on the Nike EYBL with UPlay Canada and Williamson played on the adidas Gauntlet with SC Supreme.
Shoe circuits almost never play head-to-head and run their sessions concurrently to keep players from switching teams.
The one time they nearly met up was during their senior years when Barrett’s Montverde (Florida) Academy Eagles, who were ranked No. 1 in the USA Today Super 25, and Williamson’s Spartanburg (South Carolina) Day School Griffins participated in the Beach Ball Classic in Myrtle Beach, S.C. in December 2017.
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But Williamson suffered a deep bruise in his foot that kept him sidelined and in a walking boot for most of December; Barrett went on to win MVP at the event and eventually won the GEICO High School Nationals title.
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The two teamed up at the McDonald’s All American Game in 2018, and went on to make a devastating duo at Duke, pumping in 22.6 points a game apiece last season.
Barrett is a shifty scorer who tactically maneuvers his way into the lane at-will and boasts a streaky jump shot that can turn deadly at any given moment. Williamson is a load in the paint, scoring at-will with the ability to knife or bulldoze his way into the lane on anyone. He’s also an underrated passer, and, as most of the country knows, to call him athletic would be wildly understating it.
It’s unlikely that the two players will guard each other, but inevitably they’ll face-off over the course of the game.
Who “wins the matchup” is anyone’s guess, but it’s highly likely that their first square-off will be one of if the not the highest rated summer league game of all time.
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY