Zion: Used quarantine to go ‘back to square one’

For New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson, the time he spent in quarantine made him feel like a kid.

To get ready for the NBA season, Williamson said he worked out with his stepfather, Lee Anderson, when he wasn’t rehabbing with Pelicans staffers. Williamson, 20, cherished that time as he tried to to stay as basketball-ready as possible.

“It just felt like I was 5 years old again,” Williamson said Friday. “Just went back to square one, tried to get my body where it needs to be, get my fundamentals back to square one and start from there. So yeah, it was just like starting over at 5 again. It was a great process to learn it all over.”

Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said Williamson “looked great” as the team returned to full practice for the first time in four months on Friday afternoon near Orlando, Florida. Gentry also credited Anderson for the work he did with Williamson while the Pelicans were away from each other amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“His stepfather did a fantastic job of working him out every day, of making him be in good conditioning when we got him back,” Gentry said. “He’s made a lot of strides in his shooting, I think. Although we weren’t together, he did a lot to improve his game.”

In his first NBA game Jan. 22, Williamson went on a scoring barrage in the fourth quarter when he went 4-for-4 from 3-point range, bringing the Smoothie King Center to its feet. But in the 18 games that followed, Williamson went just 2-for-9 from deep.

A glance at Williamson’s shot chart shows that he has been dominant around the rim and hasn’t done much of anything in the midrange. Could that be changing as the NBA season restarts?

“Yeah, I think there are going to be parts of my game that you didn’t see before that you’ll see when we start playing,” Williamson said.

Gentry, 65, received word from the NBA on Wednesday that he was cleared to participate in the resumption of the season. There was doubt as to whether Gentry would be held out, but after a review and array of tests, he was cleared to coach in Florida.

“As I said, it’s been tough on everyone,” Gentry said. “I wish it could have been done sooner. I wish everything would have been decided sooner. It wasn’t, but I’m here. That was my ultimate goal, is to be here and coach my team, and that’s where I am right now.”

If Gentry hadn’t been permitted to go, he would have been the third Pelicans coach who didn’t make the trip. Associate head coach of defense Jeff Bzdelik and assistant coach Jamelle McMillan stayed back — Bzdelik, 67, on the advice of team physicians and McMillan to stay with his newborn son.

Gentry said that although Bzdelik won’t be present, he’ll still be involved in the team’s defensive strategy.

“It may be from afar, but he’s going to be involved in every practice,” Gentry said. “He’s going to be involved in every game. He’ll be involved in every game-plan situation. He’s not here from a physical standpoint, but he will still be involved in everything that we do down here.”

Still, Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday said it will be an adjustment not having Bzdelik and McMillan on the bench.

“I think for the most part, especially towards the beginning of this quarantine, toward the end when we were stopping, we started to get into a groove defensively,” Holiday said. “I’ll tell you I feel like we tried to pick it back up. But being here [without Jeff and Jamelle] and not having them is kind of weird, but I feel like we adjusted well today and did a pretty good job.”

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