GREENSBORO, N.C. – Just over five years after the tragic death of Josh Level, one of North Carolina’s most promising young basketball prospects, the all-star game held in his honor is still drawing capacity crowds and displaying a who’s who of the state’s hoops talent.
“I didn’t know Josh personally, but I know a lot of people that knew him and everyone loved him,” said Trinity Christian School (Fayetteville, N.C.) wing Joey Baker, a Duke signee. “It’s cool that a great event like this could come from something so tragic.”
North Carolina signee Coby White scored 41 points to lead Team B Daht past Team Drankins 128-121 Saturday in the Josh Level Classic.
All proceeds from the showcase go toward the SmileForJosh foundation, a certified nonprofit organization that raises awareness about cardiac health risks in high school athletes. The organization is also geared toward helping inner city youth through scholarships, after school programs, back-to-school drives and basketball camps.
“It’s a chance for us to come out and support a great cause,” said White, a senior at Greenfield School (Wilson, N.C.) who took home MVP honors. “It’s cool to see that Josh is still having a positive impact on people’s lives all these years later.”
Level collapsed during a basketball game in Winston-Salem, N.C. in 2013 and later died of myocarditis, a viral infection that attacks the heart muscle.
Greensboro Day (N.C.) shooting guard John Newman was just 12 years old back then and can recall being impacted “in a big way” while attending Level’s funeral.
“It was pretty rough because he was genuinely a great guy,” said Newman, a Clemson signee. “He and his family are really well known and respected in the city so if affected a lot of people. I cried on the inside. That really hurt me, even being as young as I was.”
A year after Level passed, his best friend Kanayo Obi-Rapu organized the first Josh Level Classic in 2014 as a senior project.
Since then the game has hosted multiple five-star players from around the state including Sacramento Kings forward Harry Giles III and Dallas Mavericks point guard Dennis Smith Jr.
“It’s fun to get together with the state’s best players one last time this year,” White said. “It’s a great thing for the community to come together and honor him.”
White played in the Josh Level Classic last year, but said after losing his father Donald in August to cancer this year’s game gave him an entirely different perspective.
“This hit closer to home for me this year,” White said. “It just teaches you never to take things for granted; especially in basketball.
That much was evident Saturday night; despite the all-star setting, where defense tends to be scarce, the players came in with the mentality to compete at a high level on both ends of the floor.
“We didn’t want it to be the type of game where both teams just took turns dunking,” Newman said. “We always want to win too. I was going for heads in this one because it was my last time playing in Greensboro.”
Baker could certainly relate to that.
He began the high school season in the 2019 class, but earlier this month he decided to reclassify to 2018 and join the Blue Devils next season.
“It’s weird that this is it for high school because, unlike the seniors in this game, I thought I’d play one more year after the season was over,” Baker said. “It’s cool to have my family here and be able to play with all of my friends before we all go off to college. Then for it to end in a game like this just made it even more special.”
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY