* This was a day trip that "separated the men from the boys," said Michael Kruse from the backseat. The IC mobile departed the Triangle at 8 a.m. and didn't return until just before 2 a.m.
* Less than two weeks later and we're watching JamesOn Curry, and others, in another hot and muggy gym, this time it's the Kirby Field House on the campus of Hampden-Sydney College. For those who don't know, the Tigers' basketball program is headed by a UNC grad -- Tony Shaver, who suited up for the Heels from 1972-1975, starting as a walk-on and earning a scholarship. In 16 seasons, Shaver has won well over 300 games at H-SC.
* The Five Star Camp, at least this one (as their are quite a few up and down the coast over the course of the summer) consisted of a select number of high major players -- Chris Paul, J.R. Reynolds, Linas Kleiza, JamesOn Curry, Major Wingate, some potential college-bound kids, and then those high schoolers that forked over the $460 charge just to get better at the game.
* The first thing you notice about Five Star? The constant jingling noise. The campers have latched their room keys to their shoes, so it takes awhile to learn -- and to stop looking around for Santa and some reindeer.
* The main reason we made the trip to the camp, of course, was to see Curry -- and the sole Carolina target in attendance had a decent outing. Some counselors and others in attendance told us that Curry had been impressive thus far this week, including taking it to Virginia-bound rising senior J.R. Reynolds. Curry's squad had been eliminated the day before, so he watched the camp playoffs from the sidelines today, sporting his jersey from last summer's Nike All-American Camp. Curry did get a chance to get some time on the court when a couple of counselors gave him and Reynolds a private shooting workout after lunch -- perhaps too close to lunch, as J.R. couldn't keep the cafeteria meal from coming back up.
So, Curry's only game on Wednesday was the evening's all-star event. Matched up against a squad that featured Wake Forest commitment Chris Paul, Curry did get a chance to guard Paul on quite a few occasions and certainly held his own. His defensive highlight was halting a Paul drive to the hoop by tying him up to force a jump ball before Paul could finish his move.
"I showed [this week] that I can play defense," Curry said, referring to playing against Reynolds and Paul. "I think I did real well against Chris [tonight]. I don't remember him scoring on me."
Paul may not have scored on Curry in the half dozen times he defended him, and while Curry might never be a defensive star, he's more than sufficient at this point and will benefit from increased upper body strength down the road.
On the offensive end, where Curry gets his accolades, he hit a couple of threes, a mid-range jumper and two quick, nifty finishes around the hoop. His big offensive outburst came in the third quarter, when he took eight shots and totaled eight points, in five minutes, as each all-star played only half of each quarter. Curry's final all-star game stat line by our count -- 12 points (5-13 FG, 2-4 3pt) and five assists.
But the Five Star Camp is more about developing the fundamentals of the game than all-star matchups, and Curry said the camp has taught him a lot.
"Defense, offense, everything you need to survive as a D-I player," he said . "You learn the game here. You learn basketball."
Curry noted the two things that he learned the most about at the camp were 1) passing, as he's working on point guard skills and 2) discipline, waking up early and working all day on the court.
* It was our first chance to watch Linas Kleiza, a 6-7 Lithuanian who is a rising senior at Montrose Christian (Md.) We hadn't seen someone of his build since Kevin Bookout at Slam Dunk to the Beach in December. Kleiza is an absolute tank, plodding up and down the court, but moving deceptively well.
The muscle-bound post player faced off against Major Wingate's team in the semifinals, but a potential good matchup turned out to be nothing but total domination -- Kleiza: 31 points, Wingate: six points. When he was not simply forcing smaller defenders (which was all of them) out of his way, Kleiza showed his agility with quality moves around the hoop and a real nice one-handed, alley-oop lay-in off the glass.
In the all-star game, his ability to run the floor led to countless dunks, while he also collected a lot of points cleaning up under the hoop, finishing with 27 points and earning MVP honors. N.C. State and Virginia are reportedly the two ACC schools after him.
Quoteworthy on Kleiza ...
"It's like he grew up on a farm lifting tractor trailers and has now been let loose on the world." -- Five Star's Stu Lash
"I'll bet instead of using the weight room at Montrose, he goes outside and pushes boulders" -- Michael Kruse, Basketball America.
* Chris Paul is just a joy to watch. Now dubbed "The Babyface Killer" by those in attendance, he shakes defenders with ease and is a surprisingly strong finisher. Paul knows how to lead his team, running the offense and directing teammates throughout. His defense is underrated, as he's quite a hassle for opponents. And, lastly, the nice, polite kid has a mean competitive streak in him that shows when necessary. All in all, the West Forsyth (N.C.) star is one of the best point guards in 2003.
Over the course of the day, we had him down for about four-to-five assists -- per quarter. And, in the semifinals, his team led 28-10 after the first quarter -- and Paul had 23 of those points. He ended up with 40 on the game.
* Keep in mind the name Davis Nwonkwo, a 6-8 PF/C from Georgetown Prep (Md.). He was the second best post player, behind Kleiza, that we saw at the camp. Only a rising junior, he's got long arms and is quick off the floor, which combine to make him a solid scorer on the low blocks and a good shotblocker. He even swatted one opponents' attempt with two hands.
And now some closing random thoughts (as if this report hasn't been random enough ...)
* This was the first time we'd ever been at a basketball camp where the first round of the playoffs were so heated that a ref had to be restrained from going at it with a coach.
* Len Elmore, former Maryland star who now is a lawyer/CEO/ESPN analyst, gave the campers a lecture on life lessons. His closing words - "Choose what you want to be, choose where you want to finish." Solid advice from a smart man.
* Did you know that Hampden-Sydney College is one of the two remaining all male colleges? Nope, neither did I, but thanks to Mr. Tom Konchalski, I do now. The recruiting analyst is a walking almanac of everything related to high school hoops, and is so knowledgeable and good at what he does that you can't help but feel inferior and unworthy in his presence.
* Perhaps the top image of the day was watching Howard Garfinkel, a godfather of grassroots basketball who has run the prestigious Five Star Camps since 1966, pace in between courts sporting snug sweatpants and sucking down cigarettes. A true Kodak moment.