JamesOn at the YMCA

BURLINGTON, N.C. --- Here I am in a muggy Alamance County YMCA gym on a late Monday afternoon, staring down from the upper level track at an afternoon game of pickup below and wishing the building had AC. The outcome is insignificant, the players are apathetic – did I mention this place is hot and humid? <br><br> Why am I here? Because JamesOn Curry is here.

Sporting a black headband over his cornrows, the lanky kid who just finished his sophomore year at Eastern Alamance is playing pickup ball.

After waiting 30 minutes for his team's turn, he opens his first game by swishing a preposterous 18-foot fadeaway jumper with a hand in his face – from an angle behind the backboard. Several minutes later, he palmed the ball in a swinging motion behind his back that was so inconceivable that a member of the opposing team called a carry – prompting a five-minute stoppage of the game to discuss the move.

Before his team's easy win is complete, Curry darts around and then through a triple team to the basket, drawing some hollers from the sidelines.

In the second game, he scores on three quick baskets before misses and turnovers accumulate and his team loses, knocking them back in line on the gym chalkboard list.

His stats? 4-for-9 in the first game and 3-for-10 in the second, not that stats have any importance in pickup, anyway.

An error-free showing this is not -- he turns the ball over with ill-advised passes, fancy dribbles and forced shots, he rims out a breakaway dunk, his defense is lacking and he shies away from battling for rebounds with the big guys, but this is pickup hoops and he's only 16 years old.

But this is JamesOn Curry, not just another teenager shooting around at a YMCA open gym on a Monday afternoon.

Curry taunts a defender to try and guard him one-on one.

"I just want to play," he says afterwards. "They're doubling and tripling [me], they hold and grab, so I try to get tougher."

The defenders are so physical that while crossing the lane on one occasion, he takes an elbow to the stomach that knocks him to his knees.

But pickup is also a chance to show off, which Curry tries to do fairly often.

"My dad ain't here, and when my dad ain't here, I try to do some flashy moves," the young talent explains. "I can do it, but if it don't work, or I don't hit the shot, he'll get mad and tell me ‘this is going to come back to [haunt] you in a championship game when you're down by one with ten seconds left and lose the ball.'

The time for harmless hoops are few and far between for Curry this summer. He turned down a prestigious offer to participate in last weekend's USA Basketball Junior World Championship Team Trials because of the hectic schedule that awaits.

"I might get burned out – this next month is nothing but continuous basketball," he says.

Indeed, Curry will attend a string of non-stop events that include Five-Star Camp at Hampden-Sydney (Va.), team camp, the State Games in Raleigh, the USA Youth Festival in Colorado Springs, Nike Camp in Indianapolis and then national AAU ball with the N.C. Gaters for the rest of July.

The nation's top schools don't need to see him this summer to know he's one of the best guards on the circuit. Curry mentions North Carolina, Duke, Tennessee, NC State, Wake Forest, Maryland, Kentucky, Oklahoma -- but he's made it clear that his college destination will be in the ACC and won't be too far from home. "I believe Maryland's as far as I'd go," he says.

And he confirms that the Tar Heels are his current leader. Why?

"Because … Carolina, man, they show so much love."

For example, on Jan. 7, as Curry was celebrating his 16th birthday, he received some well wishes from the UNC staff.

"Coach Doherty, Q, … they sang happy birthday to me," he says.

In addition, he befriended UNC signee Raymond Felton last month.

"I just got to know Raymond when we played with the Gaters at the state [AAU] tournament," Curry says. "We were roommates.

"I told him ‘You tell me you'll stay three years at [UNC] and I'll commit right now' and he told me ‘Don't do that – take the visits before you do something crazy like that.'

And Curry is following Felton's advice.

"I'd like to take some visits and make sure I fit in, because this is the biggest decision of my life so far," he says. " I'm going to take some unofficial [visits] during the football season. I'll go to Maryland, Carolina and Duke – but I don't really want to go to their football games."

As for a timetable for a decision, Curry addressed the stir from the Tournament of Champions a week ago where reporters wrote that he said he could commit following the Nike All-American Camp in early July.

"I told them ‘after Nike Camp' but that could be before my senior year." In other words, last week's buzz was all a misunderstanding. Curry told reporters that he'd like to commit after the Camp – but didn't say which year's Camp.

While the local media is giving him a significant amount of print, as a native of an area like Mebane, N.C., Curry is not receiving the type of national attention that he'd get if he were from a large city.

"But big players come from small towns," Curry responds, as if it were his slogan.

And he's eager to prove himself against the nation's best, as he has his eyes on the Class of 2004's top-ranked guard: Sebastian Telfair. Curry asked repeatedly about Telfair, hoping to get his shot at this month's SLAM Magazine coverboy at the USA Youth Festival later this month.

Be careful what you wish for, JamesOn – and we'll see you in Colorado Springs.

CORRECTION: We reported that the UNC staff called Curry to wish him happy birthday. What actually happened was that Curry called the UNC basketball office, and the coaches then sang to him. We apologize for this error and the resulting misunderstanding -- as coaches aren't allowed under NCAA rules to phone high school underclassmen.

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