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Williamson of the Pelicans touts his physical and mental well-being

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New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson (1) jokes with David Griffin, executive vice president of basketball operations, during the NBA Pelicans basketball media day in New Orleans , Monday, Sept. 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton)

New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson (1) jokes with David Griffin, executive vice president of basketball operations, during the NBA Pelicans basketball media day in New Orleans , Monday, Sept. 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton)

PA

Pelicans forward Zion Williamson didn’t say much to temper the expectations of those eagerly awaiting his return to NBA court.

Duke’s 2019 first draft pick — who missed more games than he played in his first three pro seasons due to knee and foot injuries — didn’t ask for patience as he re-enters his unusual combination of size, explosiveness and skill. back on the New Orleans lineup for the first time in over a year.

Instead, the 22-year-old Williamson described his physical well-being, mental focus and sense of purpose as improved to an all-time high.

“The best way to describe it is that I found real resolution through basketball,” Williamson said Monday, discussing his two-month training stint in South Florida this summer, after signing his five-year, $193 million contract extension. .

“Something in me changed mentally, changed. And basketball is everything to me. It’s my love. That’s what I want to do,” Williamson continued. “I’m just excited to get out there and show the world what I can do.”

The Pelicans players were dressed in their home white shirts as they took part in promotional photos, videos and interviews for the club’s media day. Williamson, who weighs 6ft 6in and 284lbs, appeared fit and cheerful as he interacted with team staff, photographers and reporters inside the Smoothie King Centre, the club’s home stadium.

“He looks great. His mind is great,” veteran forward Larry Nance Jr said. “Now I have to put some padding on to deal with this beating I’m going to take (while trying to keep Williamson) in training camp. “

Williamson mentioned Nance as one of the veterans he leaned on for advice on how to approach maintaining health. Nance said he basically told Williamson that Lamborghini drivers don’t fill up on cheap gas and that he should treat his body the same.

“I feel like I’m at my best right now, going faster, jumping higher. I’m coming – I’m feeling good,” Williamson said,

“It’s one of those feelings where I’m in the gym…and I’m like, ‘Oh, man! I can really do this! It’s different,” Williamson said. “I learned a lot from a nutrition perspective, from a training perspective, how long I need to be in the gym and the most efficient to train.”

A lot has changed since last winter, when Williamson was away from the team, rehabilitating his footing on his own in Oregon, while the Pelicans tried to salvage a season in which they got off to a start. from 1-12 in first grade. coach Willie Green.

It was unclear whether Williamson or the Pelicans were considering a long-term future together — no promise of an extension.

But the Pelicans acquired veteran goaltender CJ McCollum shortly before last season’s trade deadline, and he helped winger Brandon Ingram and center Jonas Valanciunas lead a cast of feisty young players into the playoffs. playoffs.

Now, Williamson is contractually tied to New Orleans long-term, and the Pelicans are eager to see just how much of an additional contender he can become.

“We talked throughout the playoffs about what could have been if he was healthy,” guard Garrett Temple said. “So, now we have this chance, and we are ready to attack it.”

While Williamson only played 85 games, he averaged 25.7 points and seven rebounds. And he was an All-Star in his second season, when he played 61 games and averaged 27 points.

But he has yet to play under Green or alongside McCollum, Valanciunas or second-year pro Herb Jones, who emerged as a starter last season due to his strong defensive play.

“You add a guy like Z and you have to change some things in terms of how you play,” McCollum said. “It takes time to develop basketball chemistry. We can kick and go to dinner, but now we have to figure out how to make it work on the court – and I think we will.

“It’s a force to be reckoned with. I think his production speaks for itself how consistent he was when he performed,” added McCollum. “His input and impact on the game will be felt every night and he should make the game easier for all of us. I think that’s what great players do.”

Notes: David Griffin, executive vice president of basketball operations for the Pelicans, said guard Kira Lewis Jr., the club’s 2020 first-round pick, has made significant progress in his recovery from reconstructive surgery right knee last season, but isn’t ready for full-speed, five-on-five work just yet.

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This story was originally published September 26, 2022 6:54 p.m.