The All-Star Experience
Posted by Justin on May 1, 2014
First off, let me say it feels a little strange to log onto social media and see everyone talking about the EYBL while I'm sitting at home. I've played AAU for a long time and was in the EYBL the last three years. It's a good feeling though, because I'm just ready to move on.
Since the last time I talked to you all, I played in my last two games as a high school student. Though they were exhibition games, they still gave me a taste of what it's going to be like in about seven weeks when my family helps me move into my dorm in Chapel Hill.
The McDonald's All-American Game was my first of the two all-star games last month and it was a unique experience. I'll remember our trip to the Ronald McDonald House as much as I will remember the game.
Being there with kids, who have all types of sicknesses and conditions, is a good reminder of how truly blessed I am. We were there for about three hours and you could tell it made the day for some of them and made the week for others. That was a pretty awesome experience that I won't soon forget.
The only other thing away from basketball we did in our five days in Chicago was attend a banquet they hold for players and our families. It was real cool. Stephen A. Smith from ESPN was the keynote speaker. I watch "First Take" in the mornings a lot, so it was nice to get to take a picture with him.
His message was basically saying "congrats that we've made it this far." But then what stood out to me is that he said since we were considered the best players people are looking for us to fail because we're in the spotlight already. But if we keep working hard and stay hungry then we should be OK.
The game and practices were held in the United Center which is, obviously, where Michael Jordan played the last few years of his career. It was pretty surreal seeing the statue in person and knowing that we were playing in that arena.
I had to stop and just take it all in for a minute. It was crazy to know that I was playing in the same building where, arguably, the best player ever did some incredible things. It was crazy to know that I was playing in a game that could catapult you to play in the same league he played in.
Heading into the week, I'd heard a lot about practices but they weren't what I was expecting. I figured they'd be a lot of 1-on-1 and 2-on-2. For our team, we did a lot of 5-on-5 stuff. They put in a few sets and we just played the whole time.
In those scrimmages, the intensity was definitely there. Having all those great players in the class in one building, it was pretty serious and everyone was competing to the best of their ability.
As for the game itself, I wanted to let everyone know something. Sometimes it might look a little ragged on television, but everyone was trying to defend, play hard and play the right way. I promise. It's just that when you have that much talent on one court, it's going to be hard to stop people all the time. It might have looked and felt like an all-star game, but we were trying to get stops, win the game and play the right way.
I thought I played pretty well. The big thing for me – it's kind of my mantra – is to try and get better every time I step on the court. I felt like I did that, so I was happy with my performance. Playing with Houston Hoops and then at the Elite 24 last year broke me into playing games in front of a national audience. There were some guys who were really jittery, but I was pretty calm except during the pre-game stuff. That's when your adrenaline really starts running because it's all so exciting.
At the end of the game, we shook hands and they announced Jahlil (Okafor) as the MVP while we were still on the court. We all clapped and started walking back to the locker room. Then someone called me back and said "we need you to stay because you're Co-MVP."
At the time, it didn't really hit me what that meant. Then you look on social media, do a little research and realize the type of list to which I'm going to forever be associated. It's definitely huge for me and a blessing.
The Jordan Brand Classic was cool, but it was more about seeing the Jordan Brand. We met Michael Jordan, from a distance, hung out in the players' lounge and that type of stuff.
The game and practices were a lot more relaxed. The 5-on-5 competition during scrimmaging was very intense, but that's about it. I took it as another chance to build a bond with Joel and Theo. We've just been talking and it's funny how in the last year we've gone from "looking forward to North Carolina" to "I can't wait to get to North Carolina" to "we'll be at North Carolina real soon."
If you didn't know, I'm going to wear No. 44 at UNC. I explained it to Dijana Kunovac in Chicago. If you didn't see it, check it out.
I graduate on May 10 and then it's just working out until the start of my summer session at Carolina.
Until next time,
Mar. 26, 2014 - Holding Heads High
Feb. 25, 2014 - The Craziest Environment
Jan. 10, 2014 - Road Trip to Carolina
Nov. 13, 2013 - Signing Day
Oct. 15, 2013 - Home-Schooled
Sept. 3, 2013 - Summer 'Vacation'
June 6, 2013 - Gaining A Future Teammate
April 17, 2013 - AAU Ball
April 1, 2013 - UNC Basketball Camp
March 13, 2013 - My First Week As A Tar Heel