High school stars to lace 'em up against college, pro stars
Staying up late waiting for Justice Kithcart’s name to get called during tonight’s NBA draft would be the equivalent of hoisting an air ball.
No one-and-done option exists for high school kids.
There is the potential this evening, however, for a gym rat like Kithcart to miss some sleep, up late living his dream through guys picking up their NBA league passes.
“That’s my ultimate dream,” Kithcart said, coming off his freshman season as the point guard at Riverside High, where he showed the ability to dish the basketball and shoot it at the prep level.
Now Kithcart gets to demonstrate what he can do against college and pro players as one of the high school stars selected to participate in this summer’s S.J.G. Greater N.C. Pro-Am that resets at 6 tonight at Durham School of the Arts.
Admission and parking are free for all summer-league games, expected to run through Aug. 8.
DSA is a new venue for what will be the sixth season of the summer league (ncproam.com), which launched at N.C. Central. NCCU at the time was a transitioning Division I school, creating a recruiting advantage for the university, according to the NCAA. It meant that high school players no longer could participate in the summer league.
Among the local high school players joining Kithcart on pro-am rosters are Northern’s Ricky Council II, Southern’s Amari Hamilton and Hillside’s Marcus Bowling.
The return of the high school players gets at the main aim of the summer league, older players mentoring the younger ones — who tend to overestimate their ball skills, pro-am co-founder Chuck Jones said.
“A lot of them are going to get a dose of reality,” Jones said.
Kithcart conceded to having some apprehension about playing against pros and collegians.
“A little bit, but it’s still basketball,” Kithcart said.
Three-time NBA champion Dwyane Wade didn’t have the household name in high school that some of tonight’s potential NBA picks possessed as prep players, Jones said. Wade put in a lot of sweat equity to morph into D-Wade, Jones said.
“It’s going to be good for them to see how hard they have to work to get to that level,” Jones said about the pro-am’s high school players. “I just try to tell them to not let good get in the way of them being great.”
Jones played college basketball at East Carolina and Winston-Salem State. He grew up in Kinston with pro-am co-founders Jerry Stackhouse, an NBA veteran who played basketball at North Carolina, and Donyell Bryant, who played baseball at N.C. A&T.
A high school basketball coach could spend day after day to no avail telling his big men about the importance of floor spacing and footwork, but that same instruction somehow sinks in when it comes from a pro-am elder statesman like NBA veteran Rasheed Wallace, Hillside coach Crasten Davis suggested.
“As a high school coach, every kid has aspirations to play at the next level,” Davis said. The pro-am competition can help them appreciate how to get there, he said.
Kithcart spent part of Wednesday working with a strength-and-conditioning coach before heading elsewhere for a training session to focus on basketball skills.
“It’s a lot of good players out there, and you have to separate yourself,” Kithcart said. “Some guys are putting in the work, maybe more than I’m putting in. I just try to do what I can to get better.”
Kithcart was on the bench for a portion of his freshman season nursing an injury. He said he wants to become a more explosive player, improve as a shooter and develop his ability to go left off the dribble, all of that with the NBA in his long-range view.
Kithcart, 16, also spent part of Wednesday in driving school. He’s got places to go.