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The time is here: Zion Williamson will play for Duke against Syracuse

Zion Williamson jams in warmups before facing Syracuse in ACC Tournament

Duke's Zion Williamson dunks in warmups as he prepares return to action following his knee injury due to a shoe blowout earlier this season. Williamson and his Duke teammates are facing Syracuse in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals.
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Duke's Zion Williamson dunks in warmups as he prepares return to action following his knee injury due to a shoe blowout earlier this season. Williamson and his Duke teammates are facing Syracuse in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals.

After three weeks on the sidelines, Zion Williamson is ready to play for No. 5 Duke again.

The team announced Thursday that Williamson, the ACC player of the year, will be available to play in an ACC tournament quarterfinal game against Syracuse at 9:30 p.m. at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte.

Averaging 21.6 points and 8.8 rebounds, the 6-7, 285-pound Williamson hasn’t played since Feb. 20. That night against North Carolina at Cameron Indoor Stadium, the freshman’s left shoe ruptured while he was making a pivot move. He sprawled to the court with a right knee sprain, limping off the court after playing just 36 seconds in what became an 88-72 UNC win.

Duke's Zion Williamson prepares to return to action following his knee injury due to a shoe blowout earlier this season. Williamson and his Duke teammates are facing Syracuse in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals.

The freshman star was diagnosed with a mild (grade one) sprain and tests revealed no structural damage to the knee. Duke’s medical staff laid out a four-phase recovery process to Williamson, projected as the No. 1 overall pick in the June NBA Draft, 100 percent healthy before allowing a return to play.

Williamson returned to practice in non-contact situations in the week leading up to Duke’s regular-season ending game at North Carolina last Saturday. But Williamson was not cleared to play and the Blue Devils lost 79-70 to the Tar Heels at the Smith Center.

After that game, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said Williamson would begin practicing in full 5-on-5, game-like situations in practice this week with the expectation he would be available for the ACC tournament.

That process proceeded with no setbacks this week, leading Duke to declare their national player of the year candidate ready to play once again.

Duke (26-5) went 3-3 over its final six games with Williamson playing only 36 seconds in them. The Blue Devils’ first game without Williamson in uniform was Feb. 23 at Syracuse when Duke emerged with a 75-65 win at the Carrier Dome.

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An Illinois native, Steve Wiseman has covered Duke athletics since 2010 for the Durham Herald-Sun and Raleigh News & Observer. Prior to his arrival in Durham, he worked for newspapers in Columbia and Spartanburg, S.C., Biloxi, Miss., and Charlotte covering beats including the NFL’s Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints, University of South Carolina athletics and the S.C. General Assembly.
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