Catawba County prep basketball players collided on the court Saturday with top college basketball players for the 35th Annual ACC Barnstorming Tour at David Craft Gymnasium at Hickory High School.
Among the many college players in attendance for the event were Duke’s Ryan Kelly, Mason Plumlee and Seth Curry.
Kelly did not play due to an injured right foot, but tried to give sound advice to the 11 county athletes who participated.
“This is a fun experience getting to play against some high-level players, obviously,” Kelly said. “Take it as an opportunity to get better. I know whenever I stepped out on the court, I always wanted to play against the best players, and I wanted to get the most out of every opportunity that I had. I tell them to do that.”
The 6-foot-10 Plumlee wanted the prep athletes he spoke with to understand the joys that can come from playing basketball if they continue to push themselves.
“If you love (basketball), stick with it,” he said. “The game can provide a lot of opportunities and a lot blessings. I know going into college I didn’t think I would do a lot of the things I have. I’m not talking about in terms of accomplishments. I’m talking about meeting the president, going to China, going to Dubai, going to Hawaii and going to the Bahamas. I met a lot of neat people. I met Jerry West. The list goes on and on. You don’t know what the game will bring you, but it will bring a lot.”
Curry, a projected second round NBA draft pick, said having joy in the game is the most important message for all young athletes.
“Just try to have fun,” Curry said. “You tell them to always enjoy the game, if they ask for any advice, and just work hard. It’s pretty simple. Just try to have fun.”
A couple of scheduled names did not appear at the Barnstorming event, including North Carolina’s Dexter Strickland and N.C. State’s Scott Wood and Richard Howell.
All three senior players attended the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament in Portsmouth, Va.
An ACC legend in attendance for Saturday’s Barnstorming game in Hickory.
Phil Ford, a former No. 2 overall pick in the NBA Draft and the University of North Carolina’s second all-time leading scorer in men’s basketball, took part in the festivities.
Ford, who played on the Barnstorming Tour in 1978, liked interacting with future Barnstorming Tour participants.
“I enjoy the older fans, but it is always a thrill for me to see the 8-, 9- and 10-year-old little kids coming up,” he said. “They get a chance to talk to people that they probably wouldn’t have had an opportunity to talk to normally.”
Senior ACC basketball players weren’t the only ones attending Saturday’s marquee game.
N.C. State junior C.J. Leslie, who recently declared for the 2013 NBA Draft, sat on the ACC All-Stars bench next to Ford.
Leslie remembers being a young kid and watching ACC players come play at his local high school.
“You’ve got to remember that once upon a time, we were kids looking up to other ACC college players and seniors,” he said. “It’s a good time for them. You’ve just got to remember as a kid how excited you were when you saw those players.”
At halftime, both members of the ACC and Catawba County squads were featured in 3-point and dunk contests.
The Catawba County All-Stars won both events with Hickory’s Raheim Connelly winning the 3-point contest and Fred T. Foard’s Jordan Turner taking down the dunk contest.
The game resumed after both exhibitions with the ACC All-Stars leading, 57-31.
Bandys senior Chris Sorenson said there was some spirited chatter between the players during the game.
“They told me I was shooting good and to keep shooting the ball,” Sorenson said. “I’m honored. This is awesome. I didn’t expect to get to do this.”
Foard senior Joe Isenhour played in the ACC Barnstorming game despite the fact that his school’s prom was taking place the same night.
Isenhour still made it to his senior prom in plenty of time, but if he had to decide between the two, his choice would have been simple.
“Playing in the game for sure,” Isenhour said. “I wouldn’t miss this game for anything. Now, I get to go do both and have fun. I’m excited.”
In the end, the ACC All-Stars defeated the Catawba County All-Stars in sound fashion, 108-85.
However, it was the area athletes who came out the real winners with unique experiences that they will each carry for the rest of their lives.
“It’s once in a lifetime. I’m truly honored,” said Bunker Hill senior Justin Aiken. “This is amazing. Not many people ever get to do this in their life. I feel honored.”