Nolan Smith has been a popular figure in Durham since he arrived as a point guard at Duke 10 years ago, and the public will soon get the chance to join him at a hoop-a-thon that helps raise money for a cancer treatment center for teens.
Smith, a special assistant with the Duke basketball team, is a celebrity ambassador at Teen Cancer America, an organization which educates hospitals in the U.S. about cancer in adolescents and develops specialized units for 13- to 25-year-old cancer patients. Smith will host a Teen Cancer America Hoop-a-thon Challenge on July 22 at the Emily K Center in Durham.
The hoop-a-thon will feature several former Triangle stars as celebrity “coaches,” including Duke’s Quinn Cook, N.C. State’s T.J. Warren and North Carolina’s Brice Johnson, Raymond Felton, P.J. Hairston and Phil Ford.
Raleigh native and former Marquette player Darius Johnson-Odom, N.C. Central head coach LeVelle Moton, Duke assistant coaches Jon Scheyer, Nate James and Jeff Capel and current members of the Blue Devils team are also among the list of coaches who will help with the event. Each team of shooters will be paired with one of the celebrity coaches.
Basketball enthusiasts can build teams of up to 25, and each team will try to make as many shots as it can in four minutes. Participants are encouraged to raise $20 per point their team scores through pledges.
The hoop-a-thon will take place in three two-hour sessions, with each team assigned to one session. People can register individually or as part of a team by starting a fundraising campaign on pledgeit.org. Every shooter will get a T-shirt and a team picture with Smith at the event.
Smith said he hopes the money raised will eventually be used for the construction of a teen cancer center inside Duke University Hospital, where patients can interact with each other and “be a normal teenager.”
“Something like this should be bigger than just Duke,” Smith said. “The response for all the other people outside of Duke that are going to be there has really been amazing to see how people can come together no matter the school color.”
The event will not be open to the public, but each shooter on a team can bring two guests, and people who make pledges or donations will also be allowed to watch.
Smith was a first-team All-American and ACC Player of the Year as a senior in 2011 and was a first-round draft pick before a torn ACL derailed his professional career two years ago. He has spent most of his time since 2015 back in Durham and was hired by Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski as a special assistant prior to the 2016-17 season.
With the connections Smith has made in the local basketball scene, it was easy to convince his friends to be a part of the event.
“Through basketball, you make a lot of relationships, and anybody that knows me as the ‘People’s Champ’ knows that I know everybody,” Smith said.
Now, he is hopeful the star power and big names will attract more participants to the Emily K Center and generate more money for teen cancer.