ACC Barnstorming Tour Delights Fans
Some of the ACC’s top seniors put on quite a show for the enthusiastic fans that turned out at Union Pines for the first stop on the 2011 ACC Barnstorming Tour Wednesday.
Duke’s Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith, N.C. State’s Enrico Kufuor and Javier Gonzalez, North Carolina’s Justin Knox, Van Hatchell and D.J. Johnston, and Erskine College’s T.J. Taylor took on a team of Moore County All-Stars at Bob Ward Gymnasium. Though the scrappy locals took a five-point lead early, the ACC squad’s firepower and dunk prowess proved too much to overcome in the friendly game that featured some sweet jams and not a lot of defense.
In addition to the game, the fans were treated to three-point and slam dunk contests at halftime, as well as an autograph session afterward. VIP ticket holders had the opportunity to meet the players in the school cafeteria and get autographs and photos.
“I think it’s a great event and a chance to play in front of the fans one more time,” Knox said before taking the court. “It’s our last go-around. It’s a pretty cool thing.”
The Moore County All-Stars featured alums from Union Pines, Pinecrest and North Moore. The team included Larry Shields, Sam Wilborn, Derrick Ross, Lee Gatling, Eric Marion, Cecil Monroe, Jeremy Kyle, Timmy McCrimmon and U.P. head basketball coach Nick Boney.
Monroe was the wily veteran of the squad, having played in seven of these events since 1974. He’s played against some of the greats from the ACC over the years, including Tommy Burleson, Johnny Dawkins, Brad Daugherty and Jay Bilas.
“It’s always a lot of fun,” he said. “It’s just amazing how good they are. They just toy with us sometimes. They’re good.”
“My wheels are still good,” he added. “I’m 55 years old and I love it. As long as they ask me to play, I’ll play.”
In 2009, a partisan Tar Heel crowd showed up to cheer on Tyler Hansbrough and his teammates, who were fresh off a national championship run. The majority of this year’s crowd was wearing that darker shade of blue from Durham, though there were still plenty of Carolina and State faithful. You could even spot some ECU and Virginia Tech garb.
UNC women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell, mother of Van, was also on hand for the event.
Some of the highlights from the game included a couple of SportsCenter alley-oops from Smith to Carolina’s D.J. Johnston. Johnston returned the favor to Smith in the first half. Gatling also slammed home a dunk off the backboard late in the game.
Johnston also won the slam dunk contest, while Smith took home the three-point crown.
Afterward, the crowd of happy fans surrounded the players for autographs.
One of them was Carolina fan Gavin Thompson, 12, of Carthage, who attended the game with family friend Leigh Baggs, a diehard Pack supporter. Thompson said he had a great time, especially watching all of those dunks up close.
Even though he’s a lifelong Heels fan, he thought it was cool to get autographs from Singler and Smith. But that doesn’t affect where his loyalties lie.
He gave an emphatic “no” when asked if he would ever pull for Duke now that he’s met two of its stars.
In the VIP room after the game, Britton Young, 8, sat with his mom, dad and little sister, Blaire. They had driven down from Sanford for the event. Decked out in a full Duke uniform — including Nolan Smith’s No. 2 jersey — it was pretty obvious whom he was there to see.
Young said he’s been a Duke fan “forever” and didn’t miss a single game this season. His goal is suit up for the Blue Devils for real one day. He got autographs from Singler and Smith, and even got to keep Smith’s marker.
But it wasn’t the first time he’s met Singler. He and Blaire met him a couple of years ago when she was just a year old, and they got him to sign the photo taken that day. They also got a new, updated photo to add to the family photo album.
All in all, it was just a great night for both the players and the fans.
“It was fun to come out somewhere where we have a lot of fan support and just put on a show for them and, of course, after the game, show them some love,” Smith said before heading back to Durham. “They support us all year long, so it feels good.”
For a video and photo gallery of the Barnstorming Tour stop, see thepilot.com.
Contact John Krahnert III at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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