Pro-Am's new venue brings back prep stars
Now Chuck Jones' dream can materialize in earnest.
As successful as the S.J.G. Greater N.C. Pro-Am has been over the years, this sixth season of the summer league will allow Jones, one of the league's founders, to fully embrace why it all started in the first place.
High school players are returning to the pro-am, which tips off on June 27 and is expected to run through Aug. 8, league organizers announced during a news conference at Go Realty on Thursday.
Sykes Gymnasium at Durham School of the Arts is the new site for the league that both began at N.C. Central's McDougald-McLendon Gymnasium.
When the summer league started six years ago, NCCU was a Division II school, so it was fine for high school players to participate.
But when NCCU was on the move toward Division I, high school players no longer were allowed to play in the summer league because the university might have gained an unfair recruiting advantage, according to the NCAA. That caused some tossing and turning that interrupted the big dream shared by Jones and his childhood pals from down east, Donyell Marshall and Jerry Stackhouse.
“That was really our focus when we started this,” Jones said. “We wanted to have the high school players mentored by the college players, and the college players mentored by some of the pro guys.
"But because of NCAA rules, things we had no control over, it didn't work that way for the last couple of years. Now that we're over at Durham School of the Arts, we want to get back to our grassroots.”
Jones played basketball at East Carolina and Winston-Salem State. Bryant played baseball for N.C. A&T, while Stackhouse, after suiting up for Dean Smith's teams at North Carolina, has enjoyed a long NBA career. All of them went to Kinston High School, and the league's initials represent the first names of their fathers — Sal (Jones' dad), Jerry (Bryant's dad) and George (Stackhouse's dad).
Stackhouse was not at the news conference, which is rare. In February, he was elected first vice president of the NBA Players Association, and he was attending a related meeting on Thursday, pro-am spokesman Erroll Reese said.
“One of Jerry’s and Donyell’s and Chuck’s main thrusts was to have high school players be part of this whole environment to be mentored by the college players, as well as the NBA players,” Reese said.
High school players can try out for summer-league rosters on June 25 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Riverside High's gym, and more information is at ncproam.com.
“I eat, drink and sleep high school basketball,” Jones said. “North Carolina is always filled with a lot of talent. We have the top high school players from around the state. They will be in attendance.
"We're the first place that you see a lot of these guys coming in. We were the first place that you saw Kyrie Irving.”
Irving spent a season at Duke before becoming an impact player in the NBA, where former UNC sixth man Danny Green has been lighting it up from behind the 3-point line in the league's finals.
“Well, he did that at the pro-am. We had John Wall,” Jones said, referencing the Raleigh product who played a year at Kentucky before becoming the No. 1 overall pick of the Washington Wizards in 2010. “That's what we pride ourselves in, bringing people the top talent. As a matter of fact, the top talent in this area is the top talent in the country a lot of times, so we pride ourselves in being able to offer that to people that wouldn't have a chance to see those players play otherwise because of, a lot of times, the expense of it.”
There is no admission charge for the pro-am games, but the popcorn, soft drinks and candy at the concession stands are not free.
Walter Davis, who played at UNC and in the NBA, said his six older brothers taught him the game of basketball. That essentially is the concept of the pro-am, he said.
Phil Ford, who also shares that UNC-NBA lineage, said he gets a kick out of seeing how much some of the pro-am players improve from summer to summer.
The summer league's move to DSA also allows junior college players to participate, Reese said.
Pro-am organizers are donating new basketball goals, as well as helping out with the installation of new flooring for the court, DSA athletics director John Melvin said.
DSA's gym looks like a miniature version of Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium, although Melvin, who pulls for the Tar Heels, prefers likening his school's facility to UNC's Carmichael Arena.
The gym at DSA can hold about 2,500 people, Melvin said. The summer league averaged 2,000 spectators a year ago, although that number soared to 4,000 to 5,000 when big-named college and pro players were expected to play, Jones said.
In other words, the new pro-am venue should make for a more intimate setting than NCCU's gym, which can handle about 3,500 people.
Things might get tight at the summer league.
“Get there early, man,” Jones said.