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Today’s NBA player is the quintessential model of owning one’s power and influence as a superstar athlete. Thanks to King James, it’s expected that top tier talent will take control of their careers instead of owners and coaches dictating who plays where and for how long. That ideology has trickled down into college sports, as the NCAA’s finest forego generating billions of dollars for the college athletic institution that so arrogantly refuses to share a cut of the earnings it didn’t even create.

Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Kevin Love, DeMar DeRozan, and a list of other certified ballers all made the system work for them, instead of working for the system. It’s a beautiful sight to see when an exchange of power works in favor of those who have been robbed in plain view of the public.

According to CNBC, The NCAA tournament rakes in over $800 million annually off its television deals alone, making up 75 percent of the association’s yearly revenue. The conversation surrounding collegiate athletes missing out on the income they create is no longer new. Turn on any sports show worth its salt and you’ll see analysts digging into the concept that it’s time to pay the guys and girls for their contributions to the NCAA’s monetary gains. The newest subject of this conversation is none other than Zion Williamson of Duke University. Explosive, intense, and dominant. Zion steamrolled through his freshman year of college ball like the 6’7, 285 pound goliath that he is.

All season long, Zion posterized his opponents as fans and analysts alike speculated over whether or not he’d declare for the NBA draft rather than continue working for free. This while his coach remained the highest paid in college basketball at $8.9 million a year. When you’re standing out, haters are to be expected by the dozens. It was no surprise critics looked for any flaw they could find to indicate that he wasn’t ready for pro ball, and instead was an overhyped man amongst boys at the collegiate level. Meanwhile, supporters determined it was a no-brainer that Zion would declare for the draft, and go as a lottery pick earning an estimated $4.4 to $6.6 million salary.

At the center of all the chatter was Zion himself, facing the biggest decision of his life. You don’t have to be a superstar athlete to identify with what it’s like to face a major life decision. We all have and will continue to face moments when our next decision will determine the trajectory of our careers. Making that decision requires tuning out the voices of everyone claiming to know what’s best for you. At the end of the day it’s between you and destiny, because nobody has to deal with the ramifications of your choice but you. In those moments it’s important to remember the three factors that will guide you through the process, regardless of what anyone else has to say:

Let Your Performance Speak For You

Zion Williamson averaged 22.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and a 68 shooting percentage per game during his freshman year. His shooting percentage was a record high for Division 1 freshmen. He nabbed nearly every college basketball award available, including the John R. Wooden Award as the Men’s Player of The Year joining NBA great’s Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis as the only players to win the award as a freshman. Short of winning the national championship, what else does Zion have to accomplish at the collegiate level? Nothing. It quite literally doesn’t make any sense for him to decide against going pro. The numbers speak for him.

How many times have you been ready to advance, and someone had the nerve to tell you that you weren’t ready? Was it the the time you had a job opportunity that would place more responsibility on your shoulders? Maybe it was the time you were getting ready to leave home, escaping your comfort zone to venture into the unknown. Hell, it could’ve been the time you were ready to leave the safety of corporate America in favor of your own entrepreneurial aspirations. Regardless of the circumstance, it’s important to reflect on your performance as an indicator of your readiness. If you’ve accomplished most there is to accomplish at your current level, it’s time to graduate.

Ignore Outside Opinions

Isn’t it hilarious how everyone can tell you how to do something they never did? The nerve of a critic to speak on how you should execute your plans when they don’t have to walk an inch in your shoes. It’s even worse if they haven’t accomplished half of what you’ve accomplished. There are only two types of people who are ready to criticize your moves: the people in your circle who genuinely care about you, and the commentators screaming from the sidelines. Regardless of who it’s coming from, you need to take each opinion with a grain of salt.

In college basketball’s most anticipated rivalry game pitting Duke vs UNC, Zion exploded through his own shoe resulting in a sprained right knee. It sent the basketball world into a frenzy. By that time, Zion had already built enough buzz around his performance to cement his spot as a lottery draft pick in the upcoming NBA Draft. Multi-million dollar shoe deals were within grasp for the South Carolina native, on top of his obvious earning potential through other brand endorsements. Everybody seemed to be in unison suggesting that Zion should sit out the rest of the year.

During the most important season of his basketball career, people dared suggest that he sit out. A move like that would’ve almost certainly dropped his stock in the upcoming draft. Potential is great and all, but pro scouts care about performance just as much. Who is to say that those same scouts would view Zion sitting out as a lack of confidence and fortitude, rather than an effort to protect his NBA potential.

By that logic, maybe Zion could get injured early in an NBA season and opt out of playing until the playoffs, which could hurt that team’s chances of making a playoff run in the first place. Aside from all that, maybe the kid dreamed of playing for an NCAA national championship. Why should he abandon that opportunity just because someone else thinks it’s not worth it?

After ignoring what everyone else thought he should do, Zion returned against Syracuse shooting 100% from the field scoring 29 points and grabbing 14 rebounds. The guy literally didn’t miss a shot.

“I love this game, I love my teammates, so people who thought I wasn’t going to return they weren’t smart. I love playing with Duke. I love my teammates and it was great to be back.”

When you’re in a tough spot, it’s important to turn a deaf ear to outside input and listen to your gut. What are your instincts telling you? That’s the decision you need to make.

Be Aware of Timing

At the end of the day, Zion Williamson had the type of college career (though brief) that every kid dreams about while hooping with their friends, dreaming of being the next MJ or LeBron. He set records, he annihilated his competition, and demanded so much attention that CBS slapped a “Zion Cam’ on him to follow his every move during the NCAA tournament.

You can’t pay for moments like that, and they don’t always happen twice. A wise person knows to strike while the iron is hot when it comes to setting themselves for career advancement. While the people around you are giving advice that you didn’t ask for and as your haters point out any flaw they can find in your game, remember this: every decision comes down to you. Make those decisions with confidence and pride. Let everybody else catch up to the greatness you already knew you had.

Living Like Zion: The Decision Making Process  was originally published on cassiuslife.com