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PRINCETON — A crowd of more than 1,500 eager spectators packed into Deacon Jones Gymnasium at Princeton High on April 15 to see some of the best senior basketball players from Johnston County take on seniors from the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The 41st ACC Barnstorming Tour nearly sold out at Princeton as the Johnston County All-Stars nearly took down the ACC seniors, before falling 108-104. But the night was less about the game and more about creating entertainment for fans and memories for the players.
“Just being able to play against some of my favorite college athletes like Kenny Williams and Luke (Maye) was a very, very surreal experience for me,” Princeton High senior and MVP of the game Zach Garris said.
Along with North Carolina’s Maye and Williams was North Carolina State’s Torin Dorn, Jay Lewis, Sam Hunt and Eric Lockett; Wake Forest’s Anthony Bilas and Aaron Spivey. UNC forward Cam Johnson was scheduled to play but got a call from the NBA’s Boston Celtics about a pre-draft workout, so instead, former UNC point guard Kendall Marshall came to sign autographs and take pictures with fans.
“It’s fun, people get to see us that don’t normally get to see us at Chapel Hill and they made it a lot of fun,” Williams said. “I can’t even put into words about all the support we get. The fans that are watching are the reason we’re traveling.”
Williams, a native of Virginia, said it’s been fun traveling around to different places in North Carolina. The tour also gives Williams one last chance to travel and play with Luke Maye.
“Luke’s a great guy, he’s fun to be around and I know our time is coming to an end so we’re cherishing this,” Williams said.
Dorn, a native of Charlotte, said this tour gives him new appreciation for the different parts of North Carolina. Dorn has also enjoyed traveling with guys he’s competed against for years.
“It’s cool getting that experience from the guys you played against and competed against so much,” Dorn said. “To see their personalties and who they are is really cool.”
The Johnston County All-Stars featured Princeton’s Garris, Colby Sullivan, Garrett Klein and Lamarr Wilkins; Neuse Charter’s Jacob Hester and Josh Marshall; South Johnston’s Jaquain Smith and Jacob Thornton. In the fourth quarter, Maye joined the Johnston County squad and donned a Princeton jersey. Sullivan said that moment was his favorite part of the night.
“For them to play on the same high school court that I played on is unbelievable,” Sullivan said. “When Luke (Maye) put on the jersey that topped it off. Just being in the same building as them is enough — I didn’t even have to play.”
Garris won MVP after playing hard, putting in dunks and shooting 3-pointers. Dorn said that Garris impressed him the most of all the players.
“That probably made his whole year right there,” Sullivan said about his teammate. “The smile on his face was unbelievable.”
Garris and Sullivan competed in a dunk contest against Dorn, who won after dunking over a child from the crowd and throwing down a windmill after a pass off the wall. Thornton tried to defeat Williams in a 3-point shooting contest, but lost after going 8 for 10 while Williams went 9 for 10.
Throughout the night, the Sumner group gave out free merchandise, including a raffle that gave away Maye’s game-worn and signed jersey. The Sumner Group kept the merchandise money and part of the proceeds from the tickets. Princeton athletic director Travis Gaster said the night wasn’t about the money but the experience given to the community.
“It’s huge, not so much from a budget standpoint, but just giving the community an opportunity to be this close to such good athletes and guys that they see on TV,” Gaster said.