New Orleans Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson spoke to reporters Tuesday on the eve of his much-anticipated NBA regular-season debut after missing the first 44 games of the 2019-20 season.
And it looks like the 19-year-old will start and won't have a minutes restriction when the Pelicans face the San Antonio Spurs at home Wednesday (ESPN, 9:30 p.m. ET).
Williamson said he's looking at the time he missed to heal a surgically repaired lateral meniscus tear in his right knee as a blessing in disguise and an opportunity to prepare his body for the future.
But the 6-6 forward with highlight-reel athleticism was candid about the agitation and mental battles he experienced during the recovery process.
"The rehab workouts were long and strenuous," Williamson told reporters. "There were a lot of times when I just wanted to punch a wall or kick chairs. It's frustrating to not move your body the way you want to, especially since I'm only 19 and haven't played my first game yet. It was tough, but I battled through it."
Williamson said his mother told him to look at his time away as a silver lining for the long haul of his career. While this is the first time he's undergone knee surgery, he also sprained his right knee during his freshman season at Duke and bruised his left knee in the Pelicans’ summer-league opener. At his weight of about 280 pounds, his health and durability have been heavily spotlighted.
New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson was all smiles during Tuesday's practice. (Photo: Max Becherer, AP)
"I think it does help with future injuries," Williamson said of his recovery time away. "I'll have less of a chance of getting hurt."
When pressed by reporters to see if he's hoping his return can propel the Pelicans (17-27) back into the Western Conference playoff picture, Williamson did his best to temper expectations.
"Gonna take it one game at a time," he said. "We did go through a bad stretch, but things have been turning around. Just looking to join in and have fun."
The Pelicans expect a sell-out crowd (17,744) and scores of media outlets to attend Wednesday night's game at the Smoothie King Center.
"He’s going to be better than he was before," David Griffin, executive vice president of basketball operations, told USA TODAY Sports last week. "He may not be initially. But once he finds his timing, he’s really going to benefit from this time with everything that has been done. It’s making him a better version of himself."
Asked if he was nervous, Williamson said: "It's just basketball. Gonna go have fun with my teammates.
"I know the people of New Orleans are going to show a lot of love, because that’s what they do. For outside people, all I can do is invite the love."
Contributing: Mark Medina in Los Angeles.
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