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Zion Williamson was Ja Morant’s first believer way before the 2019 NBA Draft

The top two picks in the NBA Draft once played small-town grassroots basketball together.

Years before their paths would converge again as the top two prospects in the 2019 NBA Draft, Zion Williamson and Ja Morant were just a couple of kids from small-town South Carolina playing on a local grassroots team far removed from the overwhelming attention they’d receive in college.

Williamson and Morant grew up only an hour away from each other and were separated by just one grade level in school. As Williamson was entering high school and Morant was becoming a sophomore, the two teamed up on the South Carolina Hornets, an “AAU” team unaffiliated with the shoe company money and mixtape hype that has now become synonymous with the industry.

Williamson was 6’3 and had yet to blow up into a blue chip recruit. Morant was a 5’9 guard well under the radar for the high-major college programs just starting to scout his class. The most highly-touted player on the Hornets at the time was actually Devontae Shuler, who is currently a rising junior at Ole Miss. Morant said recently he doesn’t remember the team losing often and that they typically won games by 20 points.

YouTuber Frankie Vision dug up some rare footage of Williamson and Morant together on the Hornets:

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Williamson realized how good Morant was before colleges did

The South Carolina Hornets would break up the next season as Williamson moved to an Adidas-sponsored team after his freshman year. Even as Morant and Williamson headed their separate ways, Williamson continued to tout Morant on social media as recruiting evaluators around the country slept on his talent.

Williamson quote-tweeted one of Morant’s early highlights on Jan. 29, 2016, when Williamson was in his sophomore year and Morant was still an uncommitted junior. This tweet still only has four likes.

Williamson hyped up Morant again a month later, tweeting “go check out my boy highlights” with the hashtag #youcantguardhim.

This tweet still only has one like. Maybe Williamson has a future in scouting if this NBA thing doesn’t work out for him.

Morant was eventually discovered by Murray State. Williamson became a social media phenom.

As legend has it, Morant attended Chandler Parsons basketball camp during his rising junior year where he was discovered by Murray State assistant James Kane. Kane was there to recruit eventual Racers guard Tevin Brown when he noticed Morant in a side gym. The program immediately made him their top priority and were able to get a commitment ahead of South Carolina and a host of mid-major schools just before Ja started his senior season.

Williamson’s backstory needs little introduction. He grew into a consensus top-five recruit during his rising junior year and then became an internet sensation off the strength of his ridiculous dunking ability. He had Drake wearing his jersey in public and more than a million social media followers before he went to senior prom. Despite the hype, almost no one pegged Williamson as the future No. 1-overall pick. That distinction originally went to Duke teammate R.J. Barrett.

Williamson and Morant are reunited again at the NBA Draft

Williamson’s talent was so breathtaking that he became the consensus No. 1 pick from the moment he made his debut for Duke. Morant rose from a fringe first-rounder to a consensus top-three prospect in this draft after a monster sophomore season at Murray State that saw him lead the country in assist rate, finish top-10 in DI in points per game, and power his team to an upset victory over Marquette in the NCAA tournament.

Williamson is headed for the New Orleans Pelicans with the first pick and Morant will go No. 2 to the Memphis Grizzlies. The day before the draft, the two stars caught up with former SC Hornets teammate Davonte Pack, who now plays JUCO ball in Kansas.

From the South Carolina Hornets to the NBA, Williamson and Morant have now reached the pinnacle of their sport. We can’t wait to see what happens next.