Duke forward Zion Williamson, by all looks, appears to be the next big thing in the NBA. His thunderous slam dunks and the other-worldly athleticism that he packs into his 6-foot-7, 283-pound frame has Williamson drawing comparisons to NBA superstar LeBron James.

But, unlike James, Williamson and other top basketball players are no longer allowed to be eligible for the NBA Draft directly out of high school, delaying their opportunities to earn lucrative contracts at least a year. Instead, these talented players have become “one and done,” playing one season on a college scholarship with their eyes still on the NBA.

The validity of the NBA’s restriction on straight-from-high-school players was called into question when a sneaker malfunction resulted in Williamson spraining his knee just a few minutes into the Blue Devils’ game Wednesday against rival North Carolina.

After all, had Williamson’s injury been more severe, the riches he would potentially make in the NBA for himself and his family would have been put into jeopardy.

Should Williamson return to the court for Duke when his knee is healthy or see this as a wakeup call to take it easy and preserve his body for the NBA? At least a couple of current NBA players think the latter.

“Again let’s remember all the money that went into this game … and these players get none of it … and now Zion gets hurt … something has to change,” Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell stated via his Twitter profile.

“Let these kids go straight out of HS!! Too much on the line to be messing with college if you got a legit chance to turn pro,” Denver Nuggets guard Isaiah Thomas said on Twitter.

For what it’s worth, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said over the weekend that Williamson is eager to return to action and finish out the season with his Blue Devils teammates and has not expressed interest in shutting his season down. But, while the opportunity to use one’s athletic skills to attend college should not be completely overlooked, Mitchell and Thomas make valid points.

Williamson, and any other college basketball player who finds themselves in his position, needs to think long and hard about their long-term future — lest they see an injury suffered while essentially playing a sport for free cost long-term financial security and potentially a legendary professional career.

James LaCombe: 409-683-5242, james.lacombe@galvnews.com or on Twitter @JamesAtGalvNews

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