DURHAM, N.C. - Not much gets past Zion Williamson, the wondrous talent with an out-of-this-world following on social media.
And yet Williamson missed when Scottie Pippen cranked up the hype-o-meter to 11. Last week on ESPN's "The Jump," host Rachel Nichols asked Pippen: "Fill in the blank for me: Zion Williamson is the best NBA prospect since ..."
"Michael Jordan," he replied, stone-faced.
Wait, what? Past LeBron James?
"Yes, past LeBron," Pippen said.
Fast-forward to Tuesday night, minutes after Williamson pulled down 17 rebounds in Duke's 80-55 victory over Boston College.
After explaining that I work in Chicago and thus felt obliged to ask, I asked Williamson about Pippen's gushing.
"He said that?" Williamson replied.
And then Williamson turned to his locker mate and sidekick, guard Mike Buckmire: "What do you think about that, bro?"
Williamson was speechless. Finally he said: "Best prospect since ... 23? 45? Six rings?"
Yes, that Michael Jordan.
"Thank you, but I've got a long way before I can put myself in that category," Williamson said. "Jordan is the greatest. He's different, like ... I appreciate the confidence (Pippen) sees in me. Just gives me something to work harder for."
Hard work is subjective, but little else in Williamson's game is. The freshman is the nation's only player averaging 20-plus points while shooting better than 61 percent (an outrageous 68.2 percent). He's also the only player with at least 40 steals (48), blocks (44) and dunks (47).
He should be up to 49 dunks but stumbled onto some kryptonite against Boston College. After stealing a pass with about nine minutes to play, Williamson dribbled and soared to the rim for a windmill slam.
"Here we go!" Dick Vitale yelled on ESPN's telecast.
Doink. The ball bounced out.
Vitale: "He's human! He's human!"
The face-painted crazies in the Duke student section chanted: "We still love you! We still love you!"
And with four minutes to play, Cam Reddish found Williamson all alone near the basket. The crowd gasped. Williamson elevated ... and had the ball slip from his fingers and out of bounds.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski had already planned to sub him out, so when the horn sounded, Williamson stomped to the bench. He looked angry, taking a seat without dapping his teammates.
Coach K put it like this: "Look, he's a human being. It was pretty hot in here and I think he was sweating a lot. We're OK with him; he had 17 rebounds. I guess he wasn't sweating that much."
Williamson finished with 16 points, his lowest total since getting poked in the eye against Florida State four weeks ago.
He explained his momentary frustration: "The ref told me, 'Tuck your jersey in.' I said, 'Mr. Ref, my jersey is wet. I sweat a lot. Whenever I touch it, my hands get slippery.' But I wasn't mad at the ref. I was mad at myself for trying to go too fast."
He knows no other speed. Williamson won't turn 19 until July but already has 2.3 million Instagram followers and practically co-stars with ESPN anchors such as Scott Van Pelt and Mike Greenberg on nights and mornings after Duke games.
Everyone in basketball watches the highlights and attempts to make comparisons. Is the 6-foot-7, 285-pounder most like Charles Barkley? Larry Johnson? Shawn Kemp?
"I want to say Charles Barkley, but I feel like that's an understatement," said Wendell Carter Jr., the Bulls rookie who played at Duke last season. "With him being so large and so agile at the same time, it's very, very rare."
Said Bulls teammate Zach LaVine: "That dude is a franchise-changer. He can jump like me, but he looks like an outside linebacker. He's a freak of nature. Dude will change a franchise."
The public, not to mention Pippen, believes it's a foregone conclusion Williamson will be the top pick. If the Bulls finish with a bottom-three record, they will have a 14 percent chance to claim him. If they're fourth-worst, it dips to 12.5 percent.
Many basketball people, coaches and scouts, believe there's only a modest gap between Williamson and RJ Barrett, Duke's leading scorer at 23 points per game. Williamson is at 22.
"If you don't pick Zion at No. 1, do you get run out of town?" one Division I coach said.
Vitale said this during the broadcast: "Whoever drafts this kid is gonna love it. He's a box-office bonanza."
The 6-7 Barrett, who entered the season No. 1 on most draft boards, might be more of a known quantity though.
"He is in the James Harden mold," another coach said. "He will be an aggressive, hungry scorer, attacking at all times. He'll be a big iso guy and get to the foul line. With Barrett, you know what you're getting.
"Zion is a unicorn. He gets a lot of activity off the glass, off the break. What I love about him is his motor. Every time I watch him, he plays with such a joy and energy. He plays his ass off every night, and that carries over to the other guys. And that athleticism ... but he has to become a better shooter, and there's some question about how you use him."
Williamson is listed at 6-7, so perhaps 2 inches taller than Barkley but still undersized for an NBA small forward.
"Is he a power forward? Could you play him at two (shooting guard) because of his foot quickness and post him up?" legendary NBA analyst Hubie Brown asked Tuesday during Boston College's shootaround at Cameron Indoor Stadium. "That's a big question."
What the scouts who dig deeper on Williamson will find is a rare trait, even more uncommon than a 285-pound man who can go eye to eye with the rim. That trait is empathy.
"As great a basketball player as he is, he's a better person," said Brennan Besser, a fourth-year Duke walk-on guard who graduated from Chicago's Latin School. "I've seen a number of unbelievably talented players who are now in the NBA, and he is the first teammate to leverage his star power to create a more equitable space for everyone on the team."
Williamson does this in a number of ways. By including Buckmire, a little-used guard, in interviews. By giving teammates such as Besser a shoutout in Duke-produced ("Duke Blue Planet") videos. By approaching guard Alex O'Connell on Tuesday after he drained a long jumper.
"He said, 'Good shot,' " O'Connell said. "I wasn't playing too well and he was trying to pick me up."
Said Besser: "Duke recruits great players. A lot of times these guys are so basketball-centric. Zion is the most multidimensional player and friend that I've come across. It creates a culture where everybody feels loved. He does it because he's a nice guy and he knows that if he were a walk-on, he'd want to be treated that way. He has that sixth sense. He cares about other people."
He and Barrett seem to make a special effort not to display any jealousy or competition.
A recent Williamson Instagram post was a two-picture display of him and Barrett chatting and chest-bumping.
A Barrett post showed him with his head in Williamson's chest above the caption: "He's my brother like he's my mother's kid."
Asked if there will be a friendly competition for the No. 1 spot in the draft, Barrett replied: "Nah. There are a lot of variables that go into who gets picked there. Whoever goes No. 1, we will be happy for our brothers."
Is it a foregone conclusion Williamson will go No. 1?
"We do not know what's going to happen yet," Barrett said, and then he clapped. "We don't know who has the picks yet."
What we do know is second-ranked Duke (20-2) is spectacular yet flawed as it heads into Saturday's intriguing matchup at No. 3 Virginia.
The Blue Devils shot 1 for 15 from 3-point range in the first half against BC, trailing 30-28 at the break. Then they snapped out of it, dominated defensively, hit 6 of 9 from deep and outscored the Eagles 52-25.
"In the second half we were great, not good," Krzyzewski said.
Even after blowing those two dunks, Williamson was cheery after the game. He made light of Pippen's recommendation last month that Williamson "shut it down" to avoid injuries and protect his draft status.
"Mike, would you hate me if I shut down the season?" Williamson said to Buckmire, his alter ego.
Buckmire: "Of course."
"I couldn't do that to my teammates," Williamson said. "Again, thank you (to Pippen) for the confidence in me in what type of player I can become, but I love college too much to stop playing. I wouldn't give this up."