Zion Wil­liamson re­turns to prac­tice, rais­ing Pel­i­cans’ hopes

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - SPORTS - By Brett Mar­tel AP Sports Writer

METAIRIE, LA. (AP) >> Zion Wil­liamson re­turned to prac­tice with the New Or­leans Pel­i­cans on Thurs­day for the first time since he had arthro­scopic knee surgery shortly be­fore the sea­son.

But the NBA’s top over­all draft choice out of Duke can­not yet say when he’ll make his reg­u­lar-sea­son de­but

“I felt re­ally good out there,” he said.

Wil­liamson, 6-foot-6 and 285 pounds, said he first must pass “as­sess­ments” by team med­i­cal staff be­fore the de­ci­sion can rest solely with him.

“It will prob­a­bly be one of those mo­ments, where, just like when it came to my col­lege de­ci­sion, I woke up and I’ll just know,” Wil­liamson said.

Coach Alvin Gen­try said Wil­liamson par­tic­i­pated fully in the on-court work, but the prac­tice wasn’t par­tic­u­larly stren­u­ous. It was the last prac­tice be­fore New

Or­leans flew to Los An­ge­les to play the Lak­ers on Fri­day night.

Gen­try said Wil­liamson is not ex­pected to play on the two-game trip that in­cludes a stop in Sacramento on Satur­day. New Or­leans plays at home on Mon­day night against Utah.

Gen­try said the club needs to “see what kind of progress he makes, see what hap­pens af­ter he goes through prac­tices.”

“I know that he’s mak­ing progress. That’s the thing that mat­ters most,” Gen­try said. “He’s mov­ing good, but ob­vi­ously there’s go­ing to al­ways be some reser­va­tions un­til you get full con­fi­dence in what you’re do­ing . ... He prac­ticed and that’s a good start.”

Wil­liamson has never been shy about his ea­ger­ness to re­turn to the court and de­scribed an in­ter­nal strug­gle be­tween his youth­ful ex­u­ber­ance and longer-term con­sid­er­a­tions.

“It’s been a hard bal­ance be­cause I am 19,” Wil­liamson be­gan. “But from a pro­fes­sional stand­point, I do have to look at longevity.”

Wil­liamson is rel­a­tively heavy for an NBA player, never mind one who moves well and of­ten soars above the rim for the kind of dunks that have made him an in­ter­net sen­sa­tion since high school in Spar­tan­burg, South Carolina. The pur­pose of his surgery was to re­pair car­ti­lage that serves as nat­u­ral pad­ding in the knee joint. So the club has taken a cau­tious ap­proach to his re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion in hopes of min­i­miz­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of a setback.

Wil­liamson played in four pre­sea­son games be­fore his in­jury, aver­ag­ing 23.3 points and 6.5 re­bounds. He had surgery in mid-Oc­to­ber.

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