This year, the first evening of NC Pro-Am play in Durham, NC, fell on the same summer evening as both the NBA Draft, and a day before what the weather guys were saying would be the city’s “hottest day ever”. Tomorrow, the heat index would rise to 110 degrees, four Tarheels would have homes at four NBA Western Conference teams (UNC forward, Tyler Zeller’s, draft rights were later traded to Cleveland), Raleigh native, Darius Johnson-Odom would end up with the L.A. Lakers, and both the New Orleans Hornets and the Indiana Pacers would have a Blue Devil. All those guys have played at NC Pro-Am and they’d all probably agree that it can get just as hot on the court inside NCCU’s McLendon-McDougald Gymnasium as any record-setting temperature outside.
Most fans were anxious to see how N.C. State freshman Rodney Purvis would look playing among his new ACC family. Well, he was the night’s leading scorer with 35 points and looked just as tough and chiseled as some of the floor’s veterans. Right behind him in scoring was N.C. State teammate, C.J. Leslie and Wolfpack alum, Alex Johnson, who poured in 7 three-pointers. Purvis and Leslie should turn out to be a fruitful pair next season, but this summer you should look for the two to be in the middle of some entertaining court battles.
Michael DeLoach never looks like he should be able to explode-stretch to the bucket for the dunks he showed off on Thursday night, repeatedly. If I remember correctly, last year most of the former-Norfolk State guard’s tricks came in the backcourt, breaking down some of the league’s best guards. Portland Trailblazer-guard, Nolan Smith, played alongside Deloach, showing equally dazzling footwork on fast-breaks. When announcer, Bill Murphy announced over the PA system, that Smith’s former Duke teammate, Austin Rivers, had been drafted to the New Orleans Hornets, Smith and Seth Curry gave eachother a smiling nod of approval at half-court. Loud cheers erupted from the stands when it was announced that both UNC’s Harrison Barnes and John Henson had been drafted.
One of the big stories from last summer’s Pro-Am league was when UNC shooting guard, Leslie McDonald sustained a season-ending knee injury during one of the games. However, a few hours before his debut at this year’s Pro-Am, McDonald tweeted, “I've been playing intense pickup games with the NBA alumni and my teammates ....i believe I'll be fine in the ProAm #Lol” McDonald proved it with a few quick flashes to the hoop and an amazing alley-oop dunk from Tarheel teammate, P.J. Hairston. After losing Harrison Barnes to the NBA, the Tarheels must feel a little better knowing that McDonald is healthy again and that there won't be as big of a void in their perimeter play.
Father-and-son duos, community teenagers, NCCU students, and Triangle residents were all entertained by flashy playground basketball and by crowd-favorite, Rasheed Wallace, who’s on-the-court outbursts and goofin’-off loosened up the environment. This The Herald-Sun cover story from earlier that morning, suggested that this summer’s Pro-Am could have somehow been ruined by local troublemakers. That wasn’t the climate on Thursday evening. I saw pro and college athletes giving kids autographs, college basketball rivalries put to the side and people eating boxes and boxes of popcorn like they were at the movies. But this was just the preview of what should turn out to be a hot and exciting summer for basketball in Durham.
Enjoy your July 4th parties and cookouts and get yourself ready to come back to McClendon-McDougald Gymnasium, for more NC Pro-Am play, starting again on July 10th.