Basketball fans had a chance to see top NCAA seed Duke and star freshman Zion Williamson for free on Thursday, and they turned up — to the tune of an estimated 5,000 at Thursday's practice at Colonial Life Arena.
The Blue Devils, who take on North Dakota State tonight, conducted what was essentially a glorified shootaround as thousands hung on Zion's every move, sighing in disappointment when he lofted layups and roaring when he threw down two dunks, the second with a takeoff from near the top of the key. After running through drills for around 40 minutes, the Duke players and coach Mike Krzyzewski jogged off the court to loud applause.
Columbia is playing host to a men's NCAA regional for the first time in 49 years. The city was ineligble for predetermined posteason locations while the Conferederate flag flew atop the Statehouse, but was awarded the 2019 regional two years after the flag came down in 2015.
Ole Miss and Oklahoma tip off March Madness in Soda City today at 12:40 p.m., followed by Virginia vs. Gardner-Webb at 3 p.m. Duke takes the court against North Dakota State at 7:10 p.m., with VCU and UCF providing the nightcap.
Early estimates have predicted an economic impact of up to $9 million from the regional, with University of South Carolina sport and entertainment management professor Tom Regan saying spending for the event will rival an SEC football weekend.