PORTLAND, Ore. – Terrance Ferguson, arguably, has the sickest hops in high school basketball.
He throws down dunk contest worthy slams in games like layups, launches and nails NBA three-pointers in abundance and, after most games, waits to sign autographs and take pics with fans.
Still, when he walked into the Portland Trailblazers training facility for Nike Hoop Summit practice for the first time Wednesday and peered over at the sea of NBA scouts and general managers seated on the gym’s east wall, Ferguson had “legit butterflies” in the pit of his stomach.
According to USA Basketball 145 NBA personnel credentials had been issued as of Thursday.
“I was definitely nervous,” said Ferguson, a shooting guard at Advanced Prep International (Dallas) who will suit up for Team USA Saturday at 3 p.m. ET. “I had to put my headphones on to block out looking over there at all of the NBA guys. Man I wasn’t ready for that.”
Ferguson wasn’t alone in that regard, most of his teammates agreed that seeing everyone from Los Angeles Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak to former NBA MVP Kevin Durant sitting courtside felt downright nostalgic.
“It’s like starting all over,” said DeMatha Catholic (Hyattsville, Md.) point guard Markelle Fultz, a Washington signee. “Like back when we were younger trying to get noticed by college coaches. It’s definitely a different feeling.”
It’s relative; for years every player on Team USA’s roster has been drooled over by nearly ever college coach in the country and now here they are having to prove they’re good enough all over again.
“It’s definitely humbling,” Ferguson said. “Sometimes you need situations like this to remind you that you’re not where you want to be just yet. I’m always working to my ultimate goal, but I like this setting because it’s a reminder having all of the NBA guys here.”
Harry Giles III said he could care less about the presence of NBA personnel, he’d just love a chance to suit up, period.
Giles, a Duke signee, tore the ACL in his right knee during his season opener on Nov. 3 and has been sidelined ever since.
“I’m just in love with the game so it’s tough to see the guys out there in game situations practicing,” said Giles, who now takes online courses at Forest Trail Academy (Kernersville, N.C.). “In my situation, I don’t really care about the scouts being here, but I understand guys who do. It’s a chance to make an impression. That’s how you’ve gotta look at it.”
The best way to make the best impression?
Cypress Lakes (Katy, Texas) point guard De’Aaron Fox said to remember the age-old adage: Just be yourself.
“You don’t want to be out there trying to be something you’re not and doing things to try and impress those guys,” said Fox, a Kentucky signee. “Then you didn’t really impress them; whoever you were trying to be impressed them and you can’t keep that up. I’m definitely more mindful of things I do this week, but I’m just mindful anyway. Just be yourself and play hard; everything else will take care of itself.”
Lone Peak (Highland, Utah) guard Frank Jackson agreed and added that being authentic helps when you remember that “at the end of the day you’re just playing basketball.”
“It really doesn’t matter who you’re playing in front of,” said Jackson, a Duke signee. “We’ve gotta remember this is the game that we all love and just relax. I’m grateful to even be here; not too many kids get to do this so I’m definitely gonna take advantage of it.”
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY