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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