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College star's exploding shoe comes as NBA appears poised to let players go pro at 18

The league and the National Basketball Players Association are in talks to lower the minimum age for entering the NBA draft from 19 to 18.
Image: Zion Williamson of the Duke Blue Devils picks up his broken sneaker during a game against the North Carolina Tar Heels in Durham on Feb. 20, 2019.
Zion Williamson of the Duke Blue Devils picks up his broken sneaker during a game against the North Carolina Tar Heels in Durham on Feb. 20, 2019.Lance King / Getty Images

A college basketball star's exploding shoe has put an exclamation point on moves underway by the NBA to allow players to skip college play and go professional at age 18.

The National Basketball Association and its players union appear to be moving quickly toward dumping the rules that now force young elite players into one year of college before entering pro ball, The Associated Press reported.

The league sent the union its proposal for ending the so-called "one-and-done" rule well before Wednesday night when, Duke University freshman Zion Williamson sprained his knee in opening moments of his team's nationally televised game against hated rival North Carolina.

As Williamson planted his left foot, his Nike sneaker blew apart. The freak accident knocked Williamson out of the game, preceded a 1-percent dip in Nike's stock price and refocused national attention on the NBA's age restriction.

Since the 2006 draft, the NBA has required players to be at least 19 and at least one year removed from their high school graduating class.

So in effect, players like Williamson — widely considered to be the top talent of this summer's NBA draft — are forced to play one year of college basketball. His freak injury has forced the entire basketball world to question why a player of his talent should be barred from getting paid in the NBA.

Golden State Warrior center DeMarcus Cousins urged Williamson to consider sitting out the rest of Duke's season.

"College does nothing for you at this point," said the blunt Cousins, who was a one-and-done player at the University of Kentucky in 2009-10. "You've proven you're a No. 1 pick coming out. You've proven your talent. Get ready for the next level. It's happening."

Williamson assured Duke fans he plans to play again for the Blue Devils this season.

"I couldn't do that to my teammates," Williamson said of suggestions that he quit the team. "Again, thank you for, like, seeing the confidence in me and the type of player I can become. But I love college too much to stop playing. I wouldn't give this up."

An NBA spokesman declined comment on Friday about moves toward lowering the age requirement, and a union rep could not be immediately reached.

The NCAA, the governing body of college sports, has previously said it would support the NBA and union lowering its age requirements for players.