Friday, August 10, 2012

BIG BOY BALL: a golden Greater NC Pro-Am Summer

The Greater NC Pro-Am Grand Prize awaits its owner 
For everyone who attended this year’s Greater NC Pro-Am Basketball Summer League,  the games will hold a  special place in their hearts and memories since they all coincided with Team USA Basketball’s London 2012 Olympics mission to bring home the gold. As of the time of this blog posting, Team USA  is only one game away from cruising to a deserved spot at the top of the winners’ podium, leaving behind a reel of highlights including a 156-73 blowout victory against Nigeria.  In that game, N.Y. Knicks All-Star, Carmelo Anthony sank jumper-after-jumper, scoring 37 points.  That’s nothing.  Two days ago, during an NC Pro-Am Tournament playoff game, Tar Heel playmaker and NC Pro-Am’ regular season MVP, P.J. Hairston put up 49 points against a team led by Brooklyn Nets’ star, Jerry Stackhouse.  Also, while Hairston and Stackhouse may bleed the same Tar Heel blue, it didn’t stop Hairston from posterizing his older, UNC bredren.

Still, Stackhouse’s Banks Law Firm team managed to knock Hairston and his Sheraton Imperial team out of the tournament in the semifinals.  The credit for that win goes to another Tar Heel, Reggie Bullock, who put up 31 points against Rasheed Wallace and Hairston. Bullock didn’t play at all during the regular season, but he joined Stackhouse’s Banks Law Firm team during the tournament, when it counted.  In the championship game, Bullock, Stackhouse, Bo Ingram, Quincy Miller and USC’s J.T. Terrell ran all over the Duke-filled DreamWorks squad.  Duke freshman Amile Jefferson, was the victim of several, vicious Stackhouse shot blocks, Rasheed Sulaimon struggled in his limited playing time, Rodney Hook threw up airballs, and aside from a few spectacular plays between Quinn Cook and N.C. Central’s Dominique Sutton, the DreamWorks team looked defeated and disconnected as soon as the second half started. 

2012 Greater NC Pro-Am Tournament Champions, Banks Law Firm 
Stacked with two NBA players and the tournament MVP, Reggie Bullock, Banks Law Firm’s 91-84 victory over DreamWorks may not have been the most electrifying way to end a summer full of nail-biters and buzzer-beaters, but they did put on one final, flawless workshop.  The Duke boys are young and this is their first summer playing together.  Hopefully they’ll bring this summer’s experience to their upcoming college basketball season.  

But let's be honest, Greater NC Pro-Am wasn't basketball camp.  It wasn't a dreadful series of basketball scrimmages, and it wasn't life or death.  Sure, individual and team reputations were on the line all summer and many fans showed up to get some serious previews of their favorite players before the next NBA and college basketball seasons, but it was just as fun as it was competitive, just as much of a party as it was a bunch of duels, and just as dazzling as it was a little heartbreaking.  Some the best ballers from North Carolina, the ACC, and the NBA showed off high-scoring games, wicked dunks, three-point shooting exhibitions, dance moves, fan love, their love/ hate relationship with referees, and most importantly, good-fellowship.  

Team USA will win the gold medal in London and it will have been expected, but absolutely nothing at this summer's NC Pro-Am was predictable.  However, we did expect NC Pro-Am to average a billion highlights per night, and we knew that it'd be even more thrilling to sit inside N.C. Central's McClendon-McDougald Gymnasium and witness the action.  I'll take our golden, "Big Boy Ball" in Durham over gold medal, Olympic ball in London any day.  Next summer, we'll do it again and we'll have even more surprises, celebrities, big-time hoopers, and stunning highlights on deck.  Maybe you can play too, but remember; don't step on the NC Pro-Am court unless you're ready to unleash your GROWN MAN MOVES.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Stackhouse finishes, then Wallace teaches at NC Pro-Am

The Kinston, NC Connection: Bo Ingram and Greater NC Pro-Am founder, Jerry Stackhouse, after their win. 
On Wednesday evening, current Brooklyn Nets forward and Greater NC Pro-Am founder, Jerry Stackhouse finally made an appearance at hisown summer basketball league.  It was more than just an appearance though.  The former Tar Heel star moseyed into McLendon-McDougald Gymnasium only several minutes before lacing-up his sneakers and playing with the Banks Law Firm team against DTLR.   And like most of the UNC-affiliated players that have balled in this summer’s Pro-Am league, he showed up and showed out.  Stackhouse’s performance could have easily been overshadowed by another Kinston, N.C.-native, Bo Ingram’s exhilarating 39-point performance, but, well, he’s Stackhouse.  After all, this is his league, and what better way to drive that point home than to put on a show that included this classic reverse jam, a few convincing blocks--including one that he nearly smacked out of the gym--, and an unbelievable, game-winning three-pointer at the final buzzer that rocked the house. In this The Herald-Sun story, he says that he drew up the final play for himself, using the hot-handed, Bo Ingram as somewhat of a decoy.  

Drawing up plays, throwing shots, and wowing the crowd: NC Pro-Am is still Stack’s Summer House. 
Afterwards, in the 751 South vs. The Athletes Foot game, Durham’s, Miykael Faulcon scorched the nets with a game-high 29 points on 6-of-6 shooting from behind the arc, and led his team (The Athletes Foot) to a nail-biting win.  Somehow, he had enough energy to play again in the following Sheraton Imperial vs. DreamWorks game, where he didn’t get as many opportunities to find his stroke.   Clearly, the main attraction of the night’s final game was the Duke-UNC battle between Blue Devil freshmen, Rasheed Sulaimon and Amile Jefferson, and the Tar Heel duo, Rasheed Wallace and P.J. Hairston. 

The game started out as intense any Tobacco Road basketball showdown can get, and then climaxed in the second quarter when Wallace and Jefferson got tangled-up beneath the basket.  The two exchanged some harsh words and had to be broken up before Jefferson went to the free-throw line to miss both of his free-throw attempts.  Sulaimon could tell that his teammate was a little rattled by the whole ordeal, and he did his best to coach Jefferson back into focus as Wallace continued to talk trash to the both of them.  This back-and-forth banter went on for the length of the game, and even UNC’s Hairston got in on bullying the Duke freshmen when he forced a smaller Sulaimon out of the low-post.  Sulaimon drew the foul, but after the play, Hairston flexed his muscles at the crowd, implying that he was just too strong to be budged.

Rasheed Wallace is a retired basketball player who still enjoys the game and even more, still enjoys participating in the UNC-Duke rivalry.   However, he seizes the opportunity to not only coach and give on-the-court advice to his fellow Tar Heels, but also the younger Duke players.  In the heat of all of Wednesday night’s shouting and competiveness Wallace walked over to Sulaimon’s bench, pulled him to the side and whispered what was probably a bunch of pointers and words of encouragement.  Sulaimon listened and nodded while the teacher, SHEED, handed down some nuggets of wisdom.  Earlier in the game, Wallace yelled from the court over to the Duke players’ Pro-Am coach, “those are still my boys”.  He was referring to Sulaimon and Jefferson and the tough love he shares for his ACC pupils and future stars.  Wallace’s Sheraton Imperial team won the game, 77-70, but it was just another day of class where everyone learned a lil’ somethin’ at the school of NC Pro-Am.  

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Tuesday night's Top 7 plays at Greater NC-Pro Am

This is the last week of regular season NC Pro-Am play before next week's tournament begins and a new Pro-Am champion is crowned.  Between now and then, we'll post a couple more lengthy thinkpieces for y'all to read.  For now, check out some of the great plays from last night's games, featuring a pretty tricky behind-the-back bounce pass alley-oop that probably should have made #1.  The connection was one of this summer's best highlights and we'll see which one of our videographers include it in their "Top Plays of 2012 Greater NC Pro-Am" footage.

Friday, July 27, 2012

UNC's Justin Watts brings the house down at Greater NC Pro-Am

Before tonight's NC Pro-Am games, I struggled with the decision of whether or not I would mention, on this blog, the senseless shootings that took place at Wednesday night's Rucker Park Entertainers Basketball Classic in Harlem, NY, which left five people injured.  After all, sometimes we do describe ourselves as "The Rucker of the South"; but earlier this summer, after this The Herald-Sun story ran, which suggested that this year's NC Pro-Am would somehow be plagued by gang violence, I wanted to stay away from entertaining any negative portrayals of North Carolina's (and the nation's) premier summer league.  So, as long as we can all agree, that here in Durham, NC, inside N.C. Central's McLendon-McDougald Gymnasium, during NC Pro-Am play, absolutely NOTHING has resembled anything CLOSE to the unfortunate events that went down at last night's Rucker incident, then I'm alright.

Aside from that, on a hot and muggy Thursday night, NC Pro-Am definitely lived up to being "The Rucker of the South" for basketball showmanship.  It took less than an hour for the Twitter world to blow up with news and mentions of former UNC guard, Justin Watts' gym-rocking alley-oop dunk.  No one saw it coming.  Watts appeared, in the air, out of nowhere. In slow motion, he looked like a long-jumper, but stretching both arms above his head, signaling like an NFL referee would for a touchdown. Then, he caught the ball and threw it down with both hands, with a defender's arm in his face.  Then, a bunch of people from the stands went berserk and ran onto the court.  And then, Watts gave a slick wink to his NC Pro-Am teammates and his former Tar Heel teammates on the sideline--all equally amazed at his high-flying highlight. It was a shared acknowledgement that the whole gymnasium had just witnessed one of the summer's most "SportsCenter"-worthy plays.  This is "Grown Man Ball".

UNC's P.J. Hairston, Darius Johnson-Odom (L.A. Lakers) and Quincy Miller (Denver Nuggets) came to PLAY!
Watts' dunk nearly overshadowed the presence of Raleigh's Darius Johnson-Odom, who was acquired by the L.A. Lakers in last month's NBA Draft.  The first thing you should know is that our public address announcer, Bill Murphy, doesn't particularly care for the Lakers.   He made this known several times while Johnson-Odom was on the court.  But, the most important thing you should know is that Johnson-Odom put on a one-man dunk clinic which included one-handed windmill slams and muscle dunks. In the upcoming 2012-2013 NBA season, he'll be playing behind L.A. Lakers point-guards Steve Nash and Steve Blake, but neither one of those guys have Johnson-Odom's youth or athleticism.  He worked-out both of those assets on Thursday night, in back-to-back games, and put up 26 points behind N.C. Central's Dominique Sutton's game-high 27 points in the Dreamworks vs. Hendricks of Durham game.  

But perhaps the greatest moment of the night came when UNC's P.J. Hairston went on a blocking, dunking, and shooting-spree; and then playfully taunted some of his regular hecklers (Duke fans).  Hairston gave them the infamous Hulk Hogan, hand-to-the-ear pose before his team (Sheraton Imperial) walked off the court victoriously.   Sometimes families argue with each other, and sometimes they get along, but everyone is gonna leave with some good memories.   Clean competition. NC Pro-Am is built for that.    

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Holy families unite at Tuesday night's Greater NC Pro-Am

UNC's Leslie McDonald, John Henson, Kendall Marshall and Rasheed Wallace at Tuesday night's NC Pro-Am
Holy Family University is a private, Division II school in Philadelphia, PA with a student population just a little larger than the capacity of N.C. Central’s McLendon-McDougald Gymnasium.  The HFU Tigers’ basketball team plays in the CACC (Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference)—a conference not known for sending a bunch, if any, players to the NBA ranks.  But if their 6-foot sophomore and Durham native, Rashaad Sneed keeps building on the cheetah-speed point-guard play he unleashed during Tuesday night’s play, he might have a chance to make it to the next level.   However, his true test will come once we see him apply this same energy against either of this summer’s point-guard standouts, former N.C. State floor general, Alex Johnson, or Duke’s Quinn Cook.  

Former UNC stars, Kendall Marshall and John Henson made a surprise visit to Tuesday night’s NC Pro-Am games, taking a break from some of the “rookie hazing” they’ve been experiencing this summer as they make their transition to the NBA.  Of course, Rasheed Wallace was in full character, sitting next to Marshall and Henson, behind the scorer’s table, loudly poking-fun and pointing out that the boys “got tore up” during some recent NBA Summer League games.  In the third game of the evening, Wallace and UNC's P.J. Hairston led their Sheraton Imperial team to a 79-74 win over Banks Law Firm.  Wallace rejected a few at-the-basket shots and rebounded like an angry magnet while Hairston dropped some big 3-pointers and provided a powerful, crowd-pleasing putback dunk.  

Later, Wake Forest’s L.D. Williams showed off his high-jumping game, matched by N.C. Central forward, Dominique Sutton’s air dances.  North Carolina's Henson and Marshall were dressed casually, maybe opting to rest from recent NBA Summer League play, so this night’s lone NBA player was Baylor University standout Quincy Miller.  The Denver Nuggets’ second-round pick wasn’t at his best, but he showed off the swing-man versatility that he'll get to improve on as a strong reserve player for his new team. 

London 2012 Olympian, Andrea Woodson-Smith, and her husband, Jeremy Smith
While Team USA was busy crushing Spain in both of the teams’ final pre-Olympic exhibition game, here at NC Pro-Am, London 2012 Paralympics basketball player and N.C. Central assistant professor, Andrea Woodson-Smith steered her team to a victory in the Wheelchair Bridge to Sports game, playing on the same team as her husband, Jeremy Smith. Clearly, Tuesday's attractions were up to caliber--a packed gymnasium, NBA stars, Olympians, and NC Pro-Am Commissioner, Donyell Bryant's birthday. He couldn't have asked for a better gift.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Some reasons why NC Pro-Am rises above another summer league

The Jordan brand "Rise Above" truck parked outside of  Greater NC Pro-Am
For the past two days, the Jordan brand “Rise Above” truck has been parked outside of McLendon-McDougald Gymnasium, home of the N.C. Central Eagles basketball team and the  Greater NC Pro-Am Summer Basketball League. If you wanted to, you could put your name on a list, put on a pair of borrowed Jordans, and test your vertical leap on a measuring apparatus that’s attached to the end of the truck.  The truck started in Portland, Oregon and has been traveling across the country promoting sneakers and it’s four-part documentary series, “Rise Above”, which tells unique and inspirational stories.  Inside the gym, the stories were centered around Barton College’s Jon Hart nearly tearing down the rim with an endless supply of mean dunks, Duke’s Quinn Cook putting on a dazzling point-guard clinic, and Alex Johnson single-handedly destroying the undefeated, P.J. Hairston-led team, Sheraton Imperial.  All of the in-between action made me glad I wasn’t stuck somewhere watching the NBA’s version of “summer league”.  Here are nine reasons why attending the NC Pro-Am basketball games is much more gratifying. 

1.      It’s the Rucker of the South:  You can sit at home and watch the NBA Summer League games all day and you might catch one or two highlights worthy of recording to your DVR box.  For every game being played at NC Pro-Am, there’s more than a dozen highlights. For every NBA Summer League game there’s a a few dozen yawns.  It’s boring. The Thomas & Mack Center and the COX Pavilion are probably two of the best places this summer to take a nap.  Inside N.C. Central’s McLendon-McDougald gymnasium, on the other hand, there’s so many highlights happening back-to-back, that if you glance at your IPhone for one second, you might miss one of NC Pro-Am’s most unbelievable plays.   

2.     There’s better music at NC Pro-Am.  It’s no secret that a lot of NBA teams have their own well-known, resident DJs for regular-season home games. But during the NBA Summer League, there’s probably an amateur DJ  who got the gig as an internship to earn some summer credits at UNLV.  Or no DJ at all.  This summer, NC Pro-Am has been jamming to the sounds of K97.5’s Wade Banner and Brian Dawson, as well as DJ Bobby Drake and it’s resident DJ Coke.  The music stays on during the games and people actually DANCE in the stands.  The players dance too.  Now, how fun is that? 
3.      SHEED (Rasheed Wallace).  Because nothing is more entertaining than watching four-time NBA All Star and Tarheel legend, Rasheed Wallace run over to the scorer’s table and yell at everyone about how there should be a shot clock and how much the referees suck.  His basketball shoes are gigantic, green and glossy and he refuses to talk to reporters.  He still plays passionately, catches mean alley-oops, and can still hit a three-pointer from anywhere on the court.  There are no SHEEDS in the NBA Summer League.  There are no SHEEDS anywhere on earth, except for at NC Pro-Am. 

4.       Las Vegas is overrated.  Durham has character.  Everyone knows, or at least thinks that Las Vegas is a fun city, but I’ve never met anyone who’s ever actually wanted to live there or stay there for the whole summer.  There might be a lot of distractions here at NC Pro-Am (music, food, women, adorable children) but it’s nothing compared to whatever might be happening in the gambling capitol of the world at the same time as an NBA Summer League game. Why would you attend one of those games when you and your friends could go out on the town and recreate any scene from the movie The Hangover?  Maybe this explains why Las Vegas still doesn’t have a professional sports team.  There are too many other fun things to spend your money on in that city. As the saying goes, “Whatever happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” As far as we’re concerned, NBA Summer League basketball can stay there too.  
5.      N. C. Central University—Not since the Jerry Tarkanian era has anyone really wanted to play basketball at UNLV.  Sure, the Runnin’ Rebels handed the Tarheels an early season loss last year, but that doesn’t mean that all of a sudden it’s a basketball haven again.  It definitely doesn’t mean that people are dying to go there like it’s Rupp Arena. The NBA Summer League could have picked better venues.  The point is that a couple of thousand people getting together in the off-season to watch a bunch of talented collegiate and pro basketball players in a gym on the campus of a historically black campus holds more sporting and cultural significance than a bunch of overpaid ballers hoopin’ in the middle of the dessert.  You could consider NC Pro-Am to be a community basketball festival.  Sometimes it’s a party, sometimes it’s a family reunion, but most of the time, it’s a showcase of raw basketball ability in a gymnasium with more history than the Thomas & Mack Center and the COX Pavilion combined.  Plus, there’s a lot of people (including black folks) who admit to never have stepped foot on an HBCU’s campus.  NC Pro-Am brings people of all races to McClendon-McDougald Gymnasium and changes all of that. 

6.      Michael Deloach, J.P. Tokoto, Quinn Cook, Jon Hart, Alex Johnson, P.J. Hairston, Marcus Fisher, Chris Lightner, and Jon Hart.  You might recognize some of those names, but all of those guys have racked up multiple, jaw-dropping plays at this summer’s NC Pro-Am.  Sometimes it’s better to watch up-and-coming college players and under-the-radar hoopers in freakish, streetball mode rather than sit through game-after-game of the stuffy, over-disciplined basketball that the NBA Summer League offers.    

7.     The hecklers.  At NC Pro-Am, fans have the right to yell at, harass and tease (within reason) any player they choose.  For example, this summer there’s been a crew of three or four boisterous Duke fans who sit courtside and make it their duty to try to frustrate UNC’s P.J. Hairston and N.C. State’s C.J. Leslie with whatever trash talk they can come up with.  It’s NC Pro-Am, so of course, Hairston and Leslie take the opportunity to respond with their own trash-talking, but their polished, collegiate game  and competitiveness usually speaks for itself when either of them end up dominating the game.  Everyone has fun and the rivalries continue.  If you tried this at an NBA Summer League game, you might get kicked out or thrown in jail. 

8.     NC Pro-Am is a free event.  Courtside seats at an NBA Summer League game are nearly $150.00.  They even have the nerve to charge “Juniors” $12.  For a summer league game; at UNLV.  This would be like if any one of this area’s universities (UNC, Duke, N.C. State, N.C. Central) charged an admission fee to watch their basketball team shoot around at the YMCA. 

1.      Our P.A. announcer, Bill Murphy.  If you’ve been to an NC Pro-Am game, then you’ve heard Bill’s signature lines like pointing out the “Euro step”, shouting “all out ballin!”, and my favorite, “grown man ball”.  He calls out airballs, bad free-throw shooting and he takes no prisoners.  Along with the players, he’s the life of the party and he stays enthusiastic up until the final buzzer of the last game.  Not that the NBA Summer League would ever hire an in-game announcer, but they’d have to hire Charles Barkley for anyone to care.  

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Greater NC Pro-Am's Top Ten plays from Tuesday night's action

The good folks over at M2 Productions have provided us with this footage from Tuesday night's NC Pro-Am action.  If you were there, then you saw both NCCU's Dominique Sutton's hyper-athleticism and Duke's Quinn Cook's crossover and shooting exhibition.  At the point guard spot and for a sophomore, Cook has shown a lot of floor leadership this summer, especially when on the same team as future Blue Devil teammates Amile Jefferson and Rodney Hook.  Check out Sutton and Cook; as well as more Pro-Am ballers in the above video.