Zion Williamson

Last Thursday, thousands of fans took to the streets of New Orleans for a block party in honor of the team’s No. 1 draft pick, Zion Williamson.

Among those in the crowd were Houma natives Nick Verret and his longtime pal, Tim Smith, who lives in Gray.

“We wouldn’t miss this for the world,” Verret said. “We’ve been waiting for excitement like this for a long time.”

“I had tears in my eyes,” Smith said. “Seeing all of those people and the vibe and then Zion’s words about embracing our state. It was just an emotional day, man.”

New Orleans has Zion Mania after winning the NBA Draft lottery and selecting the Duke prodigy No. 1 overall at last week’s NBA Draft.

But that spillover has overflowed into the Houma-Thibodaux area, as well, as local basketball fans said this week that they, too, cannot wait to see what the Pelicans are going to do in the future with Williamson on the floor and new team president David Griffin making personnel decisions.

“I’m as excited as I’ve ever been since the team moved to New Orleans,” Verret said. “It’s almost like what the Saints went through. Since they’ve come here, we’ve had bad luck, bad decisions, bad decision makers and it turned away a lot of people. But for us true hoop fans, what we’ve seen the past few months, it’s just incredible. It’s the rebirth of Pelicans basketball.”

Other local fans agree.

Houma native Bradley Adams said he watched the NBA Draft with his friends on Thursday night, adding that like many others, he was excited to see Williamson be drafted to the team.

Adams said it was the first time he and his friends ever did anything together in support of the team, adding that he and his buddies usually just communicate about the season through a group text.

“When we saw that we were getting Zion, we said, ‘Hey, we need to have a party,’” Adams said. “We barbecued some burgers, swam a little and watched the whole draft outside on my friend’s outdoor patio. We all said we’d plan to do the same at least a couple times during the season.”

Williamson was the consensus No. 1 pick in everyone’s mock drafts — one of the highest regarded prospects since LeBron James.

Last year at Duke, Williamson averaged 22.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game, while shooting 68 percent from the floor.

Scouts say Williamson (6-feet, 7-inches, 285-pounds) has a high motor and a skill set that will translate to the next level.

Local fans think he’s the perfect replacement for Anthony Davis, who was recently traded to the Los Angeles Lakers after seven seasons with the Pelicans.

Smith said he was sorry to see Davis go at first, but added that after seeing how Davis handled his departure, he quickly changed his tune.

“I hope he flops in Los Angeles,” Smith said. The crowd of 5-6 people with him during the interview all chimed in their words of agreement. “The grass isn’t always greener on the other side.”

Smith said he believes Zion will be the first basketball star to embrace New Orleans — a city which has often had star players (Baron Davis, Chris Paul, Eric Gordon, Anthony Davis), but has never held onto them beyond the length of their contracts — often losing out to bigger markets.

“I think Zion is going to be a little bit different,” Smith said. “Some of the other players we’ve had left for different reasons and different situations. And look, being honest, I think we’re better run now than we’ve ever been before, too, which helps. That’s a game changer.”

That last part that Smith mentioned came up a lot when polling fans throughout the past week.

The emergence of Griffin as the lead, primary decision-maker for the Pelicans is a move that local fans lauded. They pointed to the Davis trade, some of the pre-draft moves the team has made and also Griffin’s track record as hints that he will help make the team into a winner.

Since taking over, Griffin has hired Trajan Langdon as General Manager, Swin Cash in the front office and the team has invested heavily into both its training and scouting departments.

“The Pelicans used to be a hobby for the Benson family,” Houma native Adam Reeves said. “Now, it’s become a little bit more.”

So, with Zion on board and significant cap space to add more players to the team, just how good will the Pelicans be next season?

Smith said they’ll be a playoff team. Reeves agreed, though both agreed that the team won’t contend for championships just yet.

Others said it’s too early to tell, but added that one thing is for sure — the team is headed in the right direction.

“Finally,” Verret said. “It took a while for us to get here, but finally.” •

Follow Casey on Twitter for more. 

https://twitter.com/casey_gisclair

Casey Gisclair is the Sports Editor at Rushing Media. A native of Cut Off and graduate of Louisiana State University, Casey is a lifelong sports fan who joined the Houma Times team in Dec. 2009 upon college graduation.

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