Zion’s challenge: Take the charge or get out of the way?

Tar Heels say the best way to defend Duke star Zion Williamson is to deny him the ball, but what happens when he's barrelling down the lane looking to dunk?

Duke's Zion Williamson muscles his way to the basket against Boston College's Ky Bowman during a game earlier this season (AP Photo/Chris Seward)

  CHAPEL HILL — Former Charlotte Hornets guard Rex Chapman has created a niche for himself on social media by posting unrelated gifs that ponder the burning basketball question “Block or charge?”

  Among the best are one in which an unsuspecting man is plowed over from behind by a bull and another in which a television news reporter covering a snowstorm is sent flying head over heels by a kid on a sled.

  They’re collisions that could have been avoided had those involved made better choices — choices a member of the North Carolina basketball team will likely have to make at least once tonight when the Tar Heels take on Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

  Consider the scenario.

  You’re a 6-foot-4, 180-pound guard who in the course of playing defense, switches off his man and slides into the lane. All of a sudden, you look up and see a defensive tackle who weighs 100 pounds more than you do barreling in your direction in a Blue Devils uniform with the force of a runaway freight train.

  Do you stand your ground and take the charge? Or does self preservation kick in and you do whatever you fan to get out of Zion Williamson’s way?

  “There’s no question,” said UNC’s Kenny Williams. “I’m not going to back down from anyone. That’s never been me. If I see him coming down the lane and I’m in good position, I’m going to do what I’m going to do.

  “It doesn’t matter if it’s him or (Los Angeles Rams star) Aaron Donald coming at me, I’m going to take the charge.”

  Most of Williams’ teammates, posed with the same question, said they would make a similar choice. At least one, however, left open the possibility that he might decide discretion is the better part of valor.

  “I haven’t thought about that much yet,” 6-9, 210-pound forward Cameron Johnson said. “We’re just going to go out there and play the game like we know how to play it.”

  Regardless of how they play it, the Tar Heels are going to have to figure out a way to defend Williamson in order to give themselves a chance at beating the nation’s top-ranked team in the first of their two intense rivalry battles this season.

 It’s a feat few have been able to accomplish thus far.

 The freakishly athletic 6-foot-7, 285-pound freshman ranks second in the ACC to teammate R.J. Barrett in scoring at 22.4 points per game and third in rebounding at 9.2 per game while leading the league in steals and shooting better than 68 percent from the floor.

  According to the man that figures to be most responsible for guarding Williamson — 6-9, 230-pound sophomore Garrison Brooks — it’s going to take a team effort to contain the Duke star.

  Brooks said that the best way to contain Williamson is not letting him get his hands on the ball.

  “I don’t know how he can score without it,” Brooks said. “That would be best.”

  As hard as it is for Williamson to score without the ball, it’s just as difficult to defend him from the bench, which is why Brooks said that he and his teammates have to concentrate even more than usual on staying out of foul trouble.

  “No silly fouls,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing for me. It’s something to think about always.”

  What makes Williamson all the more dangerous — and difficult to defend — is that he’s surrounded by at least two other players expected to be among the top 10 picked in this summer’s NBA draft (Barrett and Cam Reddish) and point guard Tre Jones, who coach Mike Krzyzewski has described as the most important member of his team.

  “Very seldom have I seen a team that people think has probably three of the top four or five picks,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “It’s up there in the stratosphere.”

  Of all those stars, the one that shines brightest is Williamson. And not just because he’s becoming the darling of the ESPN hype machine.

  “Zion is a different bird, there’s no question about it,” Williams said. “He’s got a combination of a skill set I’ve never seen before and there is a lot of attention, but he’s backed it up. He’s been pretty good.”

  The likely ACC Player and Rookie of the Year is good for at least one memorable highlight in every game, often on a play in which he powers to the basket with a head of steam — forcing a defender to make a potentially teeth-rattling decision.

 Take the charge or get out of the way?

 It’s easy, Brooks said. “You do what needs to be done to win.”