FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. – By the time DeShaun Leftwich made it onto the hardwood at John D. Fuller Rec Center (Fayetteville, N.C.) Monday afternoon, he’d fully transitioned into that weird mental space between the possible and the actual.
Sure, he wanted the maximum exposure needed to earn the best possible college scholarship; he’d clearly proven that already by transferring from Pine Forest (Fayetteville, N.C.) to Trinity Christian School (Fayetteville, N.C.).
Still, when he peered over at the 38 head and assistant college coaches scattered in the bleachers on the gym’s south side, Leftwich couldn’t stop the sudden urge to widen his eyes.
“It was a weird feeling,” said Leftwich, a junior combo guard. “I didn’t have any coaches in the stands at public school and now there’s all of these coaches here ready to watch our open run. It’s exactly the situation you want to be in as a player; but you have to fight those nerves, which is kinda hard.”
“It’s exactly the situation you want to be in as a player,” – DeShaun Leftwich
Leftwich’s sentiments were shared by most of his teammates, who were dead-set on shaking off nerves and over anxiousness to make their lasting impression a positive one; a transition to say the least.
“Because then you look over and catch eyes with big time coaches you see on TV…” said Joey Baker, a 2019 shooting guard who’s starting to generate “elite” buzz. “That’s a crazy feeling!”
Makes sense since every major coach on North Carolina’s famed Tobacco Road, including Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who, just two weeks ago, led Team USA to the FIBA World Cup gold medal with a, 129-92, win over Serbia, was in attendance Monday.
“I was playing JV last year,” Baker said. “Now I’m playing in front of Kansas and North Carolina and Duke; that’s pretty crazy. I know they didn’t come to see me; I just wanted them to remember me when they left.”
Most coaches were in the house watching Dennis Smith Jr., the top ranked junior point guard in the ESPN 60, and Lonzia Tyson, a long, springy senior forward who’s made rim-rocking dunks his signature.
RELATED: The Dennis Smith Jr. Blog
Smith’s message to his teammates was as simple as it was complex.
“Forget the coaches are here and just play ball,” he said. “I know that sounds crazy, but you really just have to block all that out and play your game. Everybody out there has talent, and you can’t show your full talent if you’re thinking too much about those coaches. This time last year I had three coaches from small schools looking at me, but I always played hard. I never let coaches affect how I played. You have to just go out and ball. That’s the only way to get what you want.”
“Forget the coaches are here and just play ball,” – Dennis Smith Jr.
Kevin Schmitt’s biggest problem wasn’t nerves as much as it was containing his overwhelming excitement with the opportunity.
“I’ve played in front of a lot of coaches before during AAU so I was more anxious than anything,” said Schmitt, a junior forward. “It was hard to sleep thinking about which coaches were gonna be there and how I was gonna play. It’s a little harder because I’m playing football right now, but I just wanted to come out and at least get looks from some people that didn’t know me.”
Mission accomplished for Schmitt and most of his teammates who turned five games to 10 into a landing board for the proverbial recruiting radar.
It was even better news for Trinity Christian big man Nykwaun Lucas, who picked up an offer from Claflin University after a strong showing at the open run.
“The coaches hadn’t seen Nykwaun all summer because he didn’t play AAU and after today he’s got an offer,” Trinity Christian coach Heath Vandevender said. “All of the coaches were asking about my juniors and my younger guys; this is what it’s all about. I couldn’t be out there coaching them or anything like that because of our association’s rules, but we met today at school and I talked to them about playing through the nerves. I thought they did a great job after they got comfortable. The key is to grow from this experience.”
He’s already focused on building on the lessons he learned Monday.
Chief among those?
“Relax,” Leftwich said matter-of-factly. “That’s the key right there. Once I did that I played a lot better and showed what I was capable of. I just have to do it the whole time. If I can do that anything is possible.”
Even transitioning to the actual.
Watch highlights from Trinity Christian’s open run.
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY