Why the Blue Devils and Tar Heels put their basketball rivalry aside to fight for one cause

The Duke basketball team Grayson Allen is in position to lead prepared for its second full practice on Saturday.

Before that, though, the 6-5, 205-pound senior guard found time to go to the Emily Krzyzewski Center for a higher cause.

For an hour before practice, Allen volunteered at Nolan Smith’s Hoop-a-Thon to help raise money for Teen Cancer America’s initiatives.

Allen and Duke teammate sophomore forward Justin Robinson rebounded shots as participants tried to make as many baskets as they could in four minutes. Pledges were made for each basket during the event, which has raised a little more than $30,000.

“It’s an honor,” Allen said. “It’s a great event that Nolan is putting on. It’s really all about providing support.”

Though Smith was the headliner for Saturday’s event, Duke wasn’t the only Triangle program represented.

Former North Carolina players Brice Johnson, Nate Britt and Phil Ford were on hand, too, along with . N.C. Central coach LeVelle Moton and former Baylor and NBA forward Quincy Miller.

“Nolan is one of my good friends,” said Johnson, a first-team All-American pick in 2016 now with the Los Angeles Clippers. “I’m always down to do something for cancer research and giving money back because I lost my mom to cancer.”

Smith helped Duke win the 2010 NCAA championship and was the 2011 ACC player of the year before he was taken by Portland in the first round of the 2011 NBA draft. Now a special assistant coach for the Blue Devils, he’s also a year into his stint as a Teen Cancer America ambassador.

With Duke starting practice this summer to prepare to travel for a matchup against the Dominican Republic national team next month, coach Mike Krzyzewski wanted all his players and coaches on campus. Smith received a pass, though.

“Coach gave me his blessing to be here at the Emily K Center,” Smith said. “He texted me this morning to say ‘I’m proud of you. Have a great event.’ But our players have to be at practice so they had to get out of here.”

Teen Cancer America works around the country to raise money to help meet the needs of adolescent and young adult cancer patients. Only 13 hospitals nationwide have facilities designed for that age group. But Smith and Teen Cancer America are helping raise money to build specialized areas at Duke and UNC hospitals.

A loud ovation erupted when Smith introduced his Tar Heel friends.

“For an event like this it’s really easy to get them involved,” Smith said. “It’s such a great cause so when I text those guys, their response isn’t ‘What time? Where is it? How long is it? What do I have to do?’ It’s ‘sure, I’ll be there.’ It shows what kind of great guys those guys are.”

Steve Wiseman: 919-419-6671, @stevewisemanNC

Make a donation

Hoop-a-thon donations are still being accepted at www.pledgeit.org/for/teen-cancer-america-hoop-a-thon.