You can wait until this winter to see Harrison Barnes, C.J. Leslie and the Plumlees play basketball again or to find out how incoming freshman like Austin Rivers or James McAdoo look. Or, you could come to N.C. Central, sit in the front row and see them play now — for free.
One of the highlights of the summer is taking place on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays this month — the Greater NC Pro Am.
Not only does the summer league give you a first look at the incoming freshman, but it also features pretty much every returning starter at Duke and UNC (along with top players from N.C. State and Wake). It also has the past two No. 1 NBA draft picks (Raleigh native John Wall and Duke product Kyrie Irving), along with other local NBA players like Nolan Smith, Raymond Felton and Julius Hodge.
And the best part — because of some bizarre NCAA rule, admission is free. Seating is first-come, first-serve in the 3,000-seat gym, and there’s parking right across the street in a great new parking garage (that’s also free at night, which is more than I can say for the parking at N.C. Central’s wealthier Durham neighbor).
Last year, the fire marshall actually turned away hundreds of fans before a game featuring players from UNC and N.C. State, but normally it’s not a problem getting in. I covered opening night for the Raleigh News & Observer, and there were maybe 1,000 people there.
The first game featured Mason Plumlee (Duke) and C.J. Leslie (NC St.), the second game had Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald (UNC), and the third game had first round pick Nolan Smith, who was fresh off the plane from Portland. But more and more star players should arrive now that the NBA is officially locked out and summer school has started on the local campuses.
It’s a crazy league. It’s marquee enough that Nolan Smith played on the same night he flew back from Portland, and yet there’s only one set of jerseys, so players are peeling off their uniforms after their game ended and handing them to the next two teams who are about to play.
This really is one of the highlights of the summer calendar. Of course there’s some caveats — for instance, the game intensity wasn’t quite as low as you would find in an all-star game, but it wasn’t high enough to be at the level of a conference game either (or even a non-conference game). Also, don’t expect rosters, programs or anything like that (although there’s a hilarious P.A. announcer who gives running commentary the entire time). You never know who’s going to show up.
Also, while I praise the NCAA for its rule that admission has to be free, I will also criticize the NCAA for its rule that high school players can’t participate because it would be an unfair recruiting advantage — for N.C. Central! (as if players of this caliber would really be put in that position).
For a basketball-crazed part of the country, with so many talented players in a small area, this is the perfect showcase. There’s really nothing else going on in the sports world either. Oh, but you should really go soon — somewhat forebodingly, if you go on the “about” page of the website and click on the NCAA logo under Certification, you get a “file not found” error message, so I have no idea how long this league will last (it’s in its fourth year now).