UNC's Leslie McDonald is among the headliners coming to Pender High School on Thursday with the ACC Barnstorming Tour. The fifth-year guard was suspended for the first nine games of the season but returned to average 10.4 points per game for the Tar Heels, who fell to Iowa State in the third round of the NCAA Tournament.
Staff writer Eric Detweiler caught up with McDonald to discuss the tour and look back on his college career. For more with Leslie, head online for the full interview at http://www.StarNewsOnline.com:
Leslie McDonald Q&A
Q:This tour isn't something you have to do. Why did you want to get involved with it?
A:"It's a great chance to play with certain guys you've been playing with for four or five years. Just being able to give back to the community. You have a lot of fans that aren't able to get tickets to games at Duke and North Carolina and Wake Forest. We have the opportunity to go to certain hometowns and give them the chance to see us up close. It's awesome. Plus, it's been going on for 30-plus years. Being able to have the opportunity to play in something that Tyler Hansbrough played in and Nolan Smith and Danny Green. It's an honor."
Q:Did you talk to some of those guys who have done it before? What did they tell you about what to expect?
A:"I've talked to different guys that have played in it before, but I've also heard about it. Just hearing about it from different people, it sounds unbelievable. I heard it's fun. You get a chance to meet new people, play together for one game. In the season, you're so focused on playing against each other. Just getting an opportunity to play alongside a rival is kind of fun and intriguing."
Q:Fans won't necessarily recognize all the names on the roster. There's quite a few end-of-the-bench type guys who are playing. You think they are ready for the spotlight?
A:"I would believe so. Speaking on behalf of some of my teammates as far as Denzel Robinson, Wade Moody and James Manor. I see these guys all the time in practice and not a lot of people understand their skills. They're not able to get into the game as much, but playing against them all the time, they're really good guys. Those three can shoot the ball incredibly well. They have the makeup that helped us get better every day in practice. It's going to be fun to see them actually get a lot of playing time in this type of game."
Q:You'll be coached by UNC legend Phil Ford. How well do you know him?
A:"Of course, he's a big Hall of Famer here, a big part of Carolina history. It's going to be fun just being around him. I've talked to him before, and he's an awesome guy, incredible. You can just tell he's full of entertainment and enjoyment for ACC basketball. I'm ready to play for him."
Q:Is there one stop that has you most excited for one reason or another?
A:"I really enjoy a lot of places. I really haven't made my mind out yet. I'm excited to get started in Virginia on Wednesday. I have a couple of friends in Virginia that are coming up. And I have a couple of people in New Bern, so that should be fun."
Q:It was a different year for you for a few different reasons. Now it's been over for a few weeks, how do you think you're going to look back on your senior season?
A:"It's been a blessing for me. I went through some ups and downs, but with those ups and downs, I've gained so much experience and maturity. It's been a blessing to finish out my year pretty strong. Although I wanted to win the championship, we still was able to turn the season back around and get some of our goals accomplished. It was an awesome season. It was an awesome time at UNC. I couldn't be anymore thankful. I'm glad I met the people that I've met and had the different experiences that I've enjoyed in my UNC career."
Q:You were a Tar Heel for a long time. Are you glad you stayed five years and got the full college experience?
A:"I really am. That was something I really enjoyed. You had a lot of guys as far as my teammates that have gone to the next level in the NBA. For me, I took a different journey and was able to stay five years here. I've seen a whole bunch. I'm working toward my degree, graduating in May. I've seen teammates come and go. My journey has been different from some of my teammates, but I wouldn't change anything. It's been an awesome experience."
Q:What do you know now that you wish you knew five years ago about playing college basketball?
A:"My freshmen year the game was so much different than high school. Of course, you have some high school players that are just born to play the college game. They can react to the college lifestyle. Sometimes it takes some time to get used to it. For me, it took some time to get used to it. Living by myself. Learning things faster. You just understand that there are other athletes that are as talented as you, and you have to separate yourself. If I had known that a long time ago, I think I would have prepared myself a little more coming into freshman year, but that's all freshmen."
Q:That is a hot-button issue: Should guys have to go to college and how long they should have to stay? As a guy who used five years, do you have a feeling on what that rule should be?
A:"That's a hard discussion and topic. For me, I felt like college not only prepared me for the next level basketball-wise but also maturity in life. I think college has helped me mature in life and understanding the different components in life. That's a hard topic. You have some guys that are just ready for the next level, your Kobes and LeBrons. For me, it wouldn't hurt to go to college. I really can't choose a side. For me, I enjoyed my college experience and it helped me a lot."
Q:What is next for you after the tour?
A:"I'll get my degree and go from there. Hopefully, I'm able to narrow down my picks with agents and get a good agent and see if I can get a couple workouts in. Mainly doing a whole bunch of training to see where I go for the next level, whether that's in the states or overseas. I'm just waiting to see."
Star News Online:
T.J. Warren briefly passed up the wide open 3-pointer, motioning for Rasheed Brown to step out on defense. When the Trask High School senior obliged, the N.C. State forward finally hoisted the shot, which splashed through the net.
Warren flashed three fingers in mock celebration, and Brown headed up the court at Pender High School chuckling.
Two days after announcing his plans to enter the NBA draft, Warren headlined the local stop on the annual ACC Barnstorming Tour on Thursday night. The ACC Player of the Year said he spent a lot of time in recent weeks praying about his future, but he's now on the road with a group of the conference's graduating seniors at peace with a choice made on a "gut feeling."
"I got a lot of feedback, everything's positive," Warren said before the exhibition. "I feel like I made a great decision. I wasn't doing this if I had any doubts."
The tour has delivered a taste of big-time college basketball to local gymnasiums for more than three decades with proceeds benefiting the local schools and Ronald McDonald House. The ACC all-stars played a team of high school seniors, plus graduating UNCW walk-on Marcus Graham, to a mostly packed house Thursday.
UNC's Leslie McDonald spent most of pregame warmups posing for pictures with fans, and Warren made his way into the stands at one point to slap hands with a few youngsters.
Afterward, fans flooded the court to get autographs from their favorite players.
"It's a family night," said former UNC point guard Phil Ford, who served as coach. "Guys get a chance to go around the state and meet people that have been watching them play for four or five years. Everybody enjoys it."
It was a memorable night for 11-year-old Jake Clinger of Wilmington. His mother, Gretta, had fibbed in telling him they were going to the circus, but he was, luckily, dressed for basketball in a Duke jersey and shorts.
Clinger said he was nervous when he was plucked from the stands early in the game to shoot a free throw for McDonald. The youngster made his shot and then McDonald bricked the second, the best possible outcome for the Blue Devil fan.
"Carolina's trash," Clinger said with a smile at halftime.
Duke's Andre Dawkins threw down a dunk off the opening tap, and fans from all four North Carolina schools in the ACC had plenty to cheer with an array of outside shots and jams.
Brown, the StarNews Player of the Year, battled Dawkins in the 3-point contest at halftime, though Dawkins outlasted the Trask sharpshooter in sudden death. The Duke guard made 42 percent of his shots from deep this season.
"He's got a great shot, man," Brown said. "He doesn't miss."
Warren's 7-foot-1 teammate, Jordan Vandenburg, had the most throw-downs during the game, and Duke's Tyler Thornton danced on the sideline when Trask boys coach Rodney Orr, serving as announcer to the crowd, declared McDonald "on fire" after three straight deep balls.
Seldom-used Duke forward Todd Zafirovski became a crowd favorite for his hustle, particularly when he lifted up a young fan to the rim for help making a shot. That scene and plenty more illustrated why Warren wanted to be part of the festivities before he begins preparation for the draft in earnest.
"It's a great event," Warren said. "It's always good to be out here getting in some last laughs and having fun with the fans.
Written By: Eric Detweiler
PILOT MOUNTAIN, NC — UNC legend Phil Ford made an appearance at East Surry High School on Tuesday, part of a promotion for the ACC Barnstorming Tour.
The 35th-annual event will make a stop at East Surry on April 17 and will feature a game between the ACC All Stars and the Surry County All-Stars. The event will also include a 3-point and slam dunk contest.
Ford, a 1978 grad of North Carolina, is the school’s No. 2 all-time scorer with 2,290 points. He was the NBA Rookie of the Year with the Kansas City Kings in 1979, and in 1988 he returned to UNC as an assistant coach, and helped lead the Heels to the national championship in 1993. He was inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in 1991.
Ford, who will coach the ACC team, spoke to the members of the Cardinals basketball team.
“We are here to promote the senior talent at the ACC schools,” Ford said. “A lot of folks don’t have the opportunity to see these folks in person.”
The ACC roster this year includes UNC’s Leslie McDonald, Duke’s Tyler Thornton, Andre Dawkins and Josh Hairston, NC State’s Jordan Vandenberg, and Wake Forest’s Travis McKie.
The team of Surry County All Stars is still being assembled.
Ford said the success of the Barnstorming Tour is a result of the heavy interest in college basketball in the state of North Carolina. He was asked how the ACC players handle playing on the same team with guys from schools that are heated rivals.
“The guys I played with, David Thompson, Tommy Amaker, those guys, there was mutual respect,” he said. “On the court, you want to beat those guys. I don’t care if it’s an ACC game or Barnstorming Tour.”
Ford was also asked about the Heel’s upcoming game against Duke on Saturday.
“(NC) State was my rivalry,” he said with a chuckle. “We’ve taken care of them twice so I’m happy.”
Ford directly addressed the student-athletes on hand at the conference on Tuesday.
“I’m honored to be a part of the ACC,” he said. “I dreamed of playing basketball at North Carolina. A lot of you guys have dreamed of playing ACC basketball, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But a game plan B is a great thing to have.
“Try to go for your dreams. My daughter wanted to be an actress. I talk to a hundred kids a year. They all want to be the next great guitar player. You better have a game plan B. On the other hand, you can’t get my age and wonder.”
Another question came regarding players who bolt for the NBA before graduating college. Ford said both of his parents were public school teachers, but that after his junior year coach Dean Smith encouraged him to go pro.
“I was No. 2 overall in 1978 and made 1.25 million over five years,” Ford said, noting how much contracts have increased since then. “As a 21-year-old guy it’s hard to say turn it down. It should be his decision once he turns 18.”
Ford, who also had stops in Lenoir and Bassett, Va. on Tuesday, wrapped up the conference with some humor.
“My dad thought I was a good baseball player, but I couldn’t hit,” he said. “I was 0-for-38 before my first one.”
After the conference, he signed autographs and had photos taken with some of the students on hand.
Over the years, the Tour has featured Michael Jordan, Len Bias, Dereck Whittenburg, Tyler Hansbrough, Nolan Smith and Tyler Zeller. A similar Barnstorming event was held at Surry Central High School in 2008.
Proceeds from the event will go to East Surry High School and the Ronald McDonald House. General admission is $12 in advance and $15 at the door. VIP tickets, which include a postgame reception with the ACC players and reserved front row seats and a photo/autograph session, are $50.
Tickets are available at East Surry High School as well as Aunt Bea’s in Mount Airy and Pilot Mountain, online at www.carolinabarnstorming.com, or by phone at 704-246-3816. Doors open at 6 p.m. and the game will tip off at 7:30 p.m.
By Jeremy Moorhouse; Mount Airy News
The pro basketball debut of ACC player of the year T.J. Warren did not occur in an NBA arena.
It happened at Bassett High School.
Warren was part of the ACC squad that fended off a team of former Bassett players 106-102 on Wednesday in the opening game of the 36th annual ACC barnstorming tour.
The ACC team featured 12 players from the ACC’s four North Carolina schools who concluded their college basketball careers this season.
All the ACC team’s players were seniors this season except for Warren, who was named a second-team All-American as a North Carolina State sophomore this year. Warren declared himself eligible for the NBA draft Tuesday, the same day he was added to the tour roster.
Warren was part of a starting lineup Wednesday that also included Leslie McDonald (North Carolina), Andre Dawkins and Josh Hairston from Duke, and Travis McKie (Wake Forest).
"It was a lot of fun to be out there," Warren said during a postgame autograph session. "It was fun competing against these guys this past year, so it was good to get out there with them."
Warren led the ACC in scoring this year with an average of 24.9 points. But he did not score much Wednesday, usually preferring to pass.
"He didn’t want to shoot tonight for some reason. His arm’s probably tired from leading the conference in scoring," McKie cracked.
Warren was usually content to hang back on the perimeter Wednesday and watch his teammates score.
"I was trying to let everybody else go," Warren said.
"T.J. was kind of deferring to us a little bit because we were seniors," Hairston said. "But we told him, ‘We’ve got the ACC player of the year on our team, you’ve got to score.’ "
Warren has been rated the No. 28 prospect for the NBA draft by ESPN’s Chad Ford.
"I wish the draft was tomorrow," Warren said.
The reserves on the ACC team included Duke’s Tyler Thornton and State’s Jordan Vandenberg.
The last time Hairston, Dawkins and Thornton played in a game, Duke was upset by Mercer in the round of 64 in the NCAA tournament. For a few days after that loss, Hairston did not want to see anybody because he felt "embarrassed."
Hairston was in a much better mood after Wednesday’s game, which featured as many grins as dunks, layups and 3-pointers.
"I had a lot of fun," Hairston said. "We’re not taking this too seriously. This is really for the fans."
Proceeds from the game went to Bassett High School’s athletic fund, Ronald McDonald House Charities and The Sumner Group, which runs the tour. The Sumner Group paid the ACC players.
McKie said he wanted to play for the ACC team because the tour is "part of ACC history."
Bassett was the first of eight stops on this month’s tour; the rest of the games will be held at seven high schools in North Carolina. Each high school assembles a team of its former players to serve as the opposition.
The starting lineup for the Bassett "all-stars" included former Virginia Tech receiver Brandon Dillard, who was once a member of the Bassett football, basketball and track and field teams.
"It was definitely a good time playing those guys," Dillard, 27, said. "I got tired quick, though — old legs."
The Bassett lineup also included Travis Koger, who was the lone senior on the Bassett boys basketball team this year. He said playing against the ACC team was a "dream come true."
"They’re great players and I just wanted to go out there and show them what I could do," Koger said.
About 800 fans attended the game, including Bassett ninth grader Bryce Varner.
"I’m a huge Carolina fan and a huge fan of the ACC, so I wanted to come," he said after collecting some autographs.
Written By: Mark Berman
The Roanoke Times
Phil Ford has always known how to make an entrance.
In his debut with the Kansas City Kings in 1978-79, he was chosen NBA Rookie of the Year as the franchise clinched its first division title in 27 years.
Kings fans who knew about Ford’s amateur days might have seen that coming. He took the college game by storm as well, and the excellence continued through his four years as North Carolina’s point guard.
On Sunday, Ford will join nine others who will be inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in a ceremony at the Midland Theater. The program begins at 8 p.m.
In a time before recruiting was a media frenzy, Ford was a hot commodity, a star guard from Rocky Mount, N.C., about an hour’s drive from Raleigh. North Carolina State, the Atlantic Coast Conference kingpin at the time and the 1974 NCAA champion, wanted him. So did Lefty Driesell at Maryland. But Ford wanted to play for North Carolina coach Dean Smith.
“He’s always meant a lot to me,” Ford said.
Ford admired the fact that Smith had awarded the school’s first athletic scholarship to an African-American, Charles Scott, about a decade earlier, and Scott became the conference’s first great black athlete.
“When coach Smith recruited (Scott), a lot of guys took notice,” Ford said. “I know I did.”
When Ford got to North Carolina, even with a load of expectation, he didn’t know where he’d fit in. At early practices, Smith told Ford he might have to play for junior varsity. It was merely a motivational message.
Freshmen eligibility had been on the NCAA books for only two years at the time, and Ford became the first freshman to open a season for Smith. The team was young. Future NBA standout Walter Davis was a sophomore, along with big man Tommy LaGarde and guard John Kuester. Mitch Kupchak was a junior. And the Tar Heels were being led by a freshman.
North Carolina lost both games in the Big Four Tournament, which brought together the four Tobacco Road teams — Carolina, Duke, N.C. State and Wake Forest. By the end of the regular season, the Tar Heels stood in a three-way tie for second in the ACC behind Maryland.
But the ACC tournament was magical. North Carolina survived in overtime against Wake Forest and Clemson and faced the defending champion Wolfpack in the final.
The dazzling Ford controlled the action, driving North Carolina to victory and becoming the first freshman chosen most valuable player of the tournament. Ford deftly operated the Tar Heels’ Four Corners offense, a stall tactic to everybody who had to defend it, a deadly piece of strategy for a North Carolina team that relied heavily on Ford’s ball-handling and quickness.
“You really had to have five good ball-handlers, five good shooters and five good defenders, and we had that,” Ford said.
In the pre-shot clock days, North Carolina broke out the Four Corners, placing players in each corner of the half court with the idea of getting a layup or heading to the free-throw line to protect or add to a lead. The idea had originated with legendary coach John McLendon; popularized by Smith, a fellow Kansan; and perfected on the floor by Ford.
By the time he was finished with college, Ford had helped lead the Tar Heels to the 1977 NCAA final, where they lost to Marquette, and won nearly every major individual honor the next season as a senior.
Now, it was on to Kansas City, although Ford originally balked at the idea. “I doubt you’ll see me in a Kansas City uniform,” he said shortly after the Kings made him the draft’s second overall pick.
“That was a mistake,” Ford said. “I didn’t handle things well. But I got there and I loved the city, and it was great playing for Cotton Fitzsimmons.”
From a 31-51 season in 1977-78, the Kings had their best season in Kansas City with a 48-34 record in 1978-79. Ford won the rookie award, teaming with Otis Birdsong for one of the NBA’s top backcourts, and Fitzsimmons was the league’s coach of the year.
The team continued to play well over the next two seasons, but in Ford’s fourth year, the Kings’ roster changed and Ford’s effectiveness waned. He was traded to the Nets in 1982, and his NBA career was over by 1985.
Ford has remained tight with North Carolina’s program over the years, serving as an assistant coach and radio analyst. Most recently he served on the Charlotte Bobcats’ staff, and looks to get back into coaching one day.
But what occupies much of his time today is the Phil Ford Foundation to help fight childhood obesity.
“We’re just getting it started,” he said, “trying to raise awareness and find solutions.”
Story By:Blair Kerkhoff, KC STAR