No prep stuff here.
Rising Voyager Academy sophomore Jay Huff was running with the big boys on Thursday during the opening night of the S.J.G. Greater N.C. Pro-Am at Durham School of the Arts.
“It felt a lot different than my AAU team, because people were bigger, stronger, faster,” Huff said, conceding that he had a case of nerves early on. “But I eased into it.”
This sixth season of the summer league returns high school players to the court. The pro-am launched at N.C. Central when the university was a transitioning Division I program. According to NCAA rules, that gave NCCU a recruiting advantage, forcing the exclusion of high school players.
Pro-am organizers hosting the games at DSA reopened the door for high school players like Huff, who suited up for the DreamWorks pro-am team that is supposed to include former Duke players Kyrie Irving, Miles Plumlee and Mason Plumlee.
“I think it’ll be fun to play with and watch Kyrie Irving,” Huff said.
The pro-am crowd didn’t get to see Irving or many of the other big names expected to show up this season. Former Duke guard Nolan Smith, North Carolina guard Leslie McDonald and retired NBA star Rasheed Wallace, a former Tar Heel, were in the gym checking out some of the games.
“We call this our soft opening,” pro-am spokesman Erroll Reese said.
The higher-profile players will begin trickling in after the Fourth of July, Reese said.
DSA’s Sykes Gym, with a capacity of about 2,500 — some 1,000 under that of NCCU’s McLendon-McDougald Gym — wasn’t full, and those who came had to endure a late start, some hiccups that stopped play and problems with game announcer Bill Murphy’s microphone.
But Durham Public Schools athletics director Larry McDonald and DSA athletics director John Melvin were among those pitching in to finally get Murphy’s already loud voice amplified.
“Oh, there was a brick!” Murphy said after former NCCU forward Dominique Sutton was way off on a jumper.
Huff was on the floor playing against Elizabeth City State basketball player Miykael Faulcon, one of the men with North Carolina guard P.J. Hairston when they, along with another man, were stopped at an East Durham license checkpoint and charged with marijuana possession recently.
Faulcon, who played at Hillside High School, said this is his fourth pro-am. Playing here last season he demonstrated a lethal stroke from long range.
“I started off as a high schooler,” Faulcon said about the summer league. “It benefited me a lot … playing against other guys, NBA players, helping me understand the game a lot better.”
Durham County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Stan Harris, who had officers stationed throughout the gym Thursday, said he didn’t foresee any issues with the pro-am operating out of a smaller, more concentrated venue.
“People normally behave themselves once they get in,” Harris said. “It’s the pro-am, and people respect the pro-am.
“It’s a good, quality event. Good, quality entertainment. … Nobody wants to mess that up.”
On the opening-night highlight reel was the red-velvet cake baked in the ovens at Durham’s Favor Desserts.
“Best piece of red-velvet cake I ever had,” said Johnny Watkins, who was visiting from Kannapolis. “It almost makes you slap somebody.”
Watkins intended to save a portion of his slice for later, explaining that he didn’t want to look greedy. But he couldn’t resist and finished cleaning out the container right there in the gym.
CoCoCrissi Tropical Icees owner Lou Torres said the summer league catapulted his business five years ago when he started selling his sweet treats to the pro-am crowd.
“It got a lot of exposure at the summer league, which led to other venues,” Torres said. “I turned this into a lucrative business, to say the least.”
Torres was in DSA pushing his cart containing New York-style Italian ice. He’s expecting brisk sales at the pro-am’s new venue.
“It’s a more intimate crowd, somewhat like a Duke,” Torres said, referring to Cameron Indoor Stadium, a facility that bears an eerie similarity to the historic DSA — formerly Durham High School — Sykes Gymnasium. “Being that it’s a smaller venue, I’m anticipating the heat to be a little bit hotter.
“As long as it’s warm and muggy in here, there’s enough business for me.”
NOTES — The pro-am takes a week off for the Independence Day holiday after its “soft” opener and returns to action Thursday night. After that, games will be played Tuesday and Thursday nights.