RALEIGH, N.C. – Osinachi Smart speeds down the court at the Boys & Girls Club, seals his man on the low block and receives a crisp pass.
The 6-foot-8 forward fakes right, spins back to the left and throws down a rim-rocking dunk that prompts a collective “Ooh” from the players, spectators and coaches in the packed gym.
Two plays later, he does it again.
Then after outhustling two smaller, quicker guards to a loose ball, Smart tries to rip the rim off once more; this time on a two-handed cock-back.
There’s no state title on the line and no MVP trophy resting on a podium.
The payoff on this sunny Sunday afternoon is, arguably, even greater.
“I’m working hard because I want to make this team,” said Smart, who pumped in 12 points and 12 rebounds a game this season at New Garden Friends (Greensboro, N.C.). “I can’t remember the last time I had to try out for a team, but I like it. It makes me even hungrier. I’ll do whatever I have to do to make it.”
Smart was one of more than 30 of the top players from all over North Carolina who tried out for Team Wall, adidas’ newest AAU program started by Washington Wizards All-Star point guard John Wall, a North Carolina native.
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Players are fully aware that a spot on Team Wall means traveling all over the country this spring and summer duking it out against some of the most elite players while hundreds of college coaches sit courtside during NCAA evaluation periods.
“These kids have a big opportunity,” Team Wall director/coach Kendrick Williams said. “It’s a chance to maximize their chances at earning the best possible scholarship and becoming better players and young men in the process. It starts with this tryout; all of these kids are ‘the man’ at their high school, but now they’re putting any egos aside for the greater goal.”
That wasn’t hard for Coby White; even though he’s swiftly generating “next big thing” buzz as a 6-foot-3 freshman point guard.
White averaged 16 points a game at Greenfield (Wilson, N.C.) and helped the Knights reach the Final Four this season.
With that resume, it’s not surprising that Sunday’s tryout was White’s first ever.
“I didn’t mind at all; just want to keep getting better,” White said. “There’s a lot of big time competition out here and I love that. I don’t think about what I did before and I don’t think I should automatically make it. I like to work hard for it.”
That mindset is second nature for Smart, who’s up every day at 5:30 a.m. to be at school by 6:30 a.m. to work with a tutor an hour before the first bell rings.
“I just go hard in everything that I do,” said Smart, a junior. “Going hard here today was what I would do anyway. It doesn’t really matter to me about what I did in the high school season. I wanted to prove to the coaches that I belong here. I wanted to go as hard as possible.”
It was a common theme among the talented crop, which included more than five players who won Player of the Year honors in the respective conferences.
Williams, who coached Wall in high school and AAU, said the final team will be announced by March 15.
“The easy part was to go out and invite the best players on each team to come tryout,” Williams said. “The hard part is to pick the best of the best. Still, we’re going to put a team together that fits what we’re trying to accomplish and a team that represents the type of player John was and is. John was talented, yes; but he coupled that with hard work and an unrelenting motor when he played. That’s what we want at Team Wall.”
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY