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  • Whether it’s the sensational play of Israeli guard Deni Avdija, Zion Williamson’s tour de force, or both, no-frills basketball gyms are more likely to pull in NBA personnel this weekend. Even during a three-day event full of pageantry, competitive basketball usually takes precedence.
By Jeremy Woo
February 16, 2019

DAVIDSON, N.C. — As the league’s brightest young stars preened and prepped to roll the ball out under the lights 22 miles south in Charlotte, the scene at John M. Belk Arena stood as a reminder that the All-Star break is only nominal for NBA teams. The drive up I-77 includes a construction-fueled bottleneck that turns a 30-minute ride from Uptown Charlotte into 45—multiplied by the general swath of traffic that floods All-Star Weekend annually. Yet surely, there hadn’t been this many scouts at Davidson College since Stephen Curry’s heyday. 

With 44 scouts—a number the NBA expects to double over the weekend—from 24 NBA teams scheduled to attend Friday night’s game against St. Joseph’s, the casual eye might wonder why. There were indeed multiple reasons to show up. Despite the ongoing struggles of star guard Kellan Grady, the Wildcats have looked like the Atlantic-10’s best team. Their opponents were led by Charlie Brown, a fringe draft prospect who wisely chose basketball as opposed to, say, kicking field goals. Legendary coaches Bob McKillop and Phil Martelli have nearly 1000 combined wins to their names.

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Curry himself made a triumphant return, stopping to pose with body-paint and Speedo-clad student sectioners after Davidson’s 80–72 win. Still, even with all the sights, one common scouting principle reigned supreme: convenience. “Don’t think too hard about it,” said one scout. “We might be done with this one after 10 minutes.” 

While Friday night’s game was close, the nominal prospects underwhelmed. Brown scored 20 points, but missed a big chunk of the second half due to foul trouble, his shot selection spotty. Grady played all 40 minutes but scored just six points. It’s eminently possible both players return to school, rendering any takeaways from this one moot for the short-term. But for the throngs of team personnel who break away from criss-crossing the country and wind up at All-Star every year, the weekend is never about the weekend. Competitive basketball tends to take precedence, even if there are no surefire draftable prospects on display, and even when you’re inconveniently shoehorned into a corner section in the back of the gym. “You just gotta maximize your time here,” offered one executive. 

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As the entire city parties on, being efficient can be a tall task. At the end of the day—literally—the best move tends to be steering clear of the fracas, particularly if you’re working the weekend. Uptown Charlotte, where the Hornets’ Spectrum Center is located, is in many ways designed for mass congestion. Adjacent to the arena is the Epicentre, an outdoor mall that houses the majority of Charlotte’s dining and nightlife options. Thousands of fans poured out of Friday’s Rising Stars game and into the surrounding area, turning one writer’s simple jaunt for a burger into an odyssey. Fish, meet barrel. And for team personnel, staying with nearby family or in hotels removed from the main stretch becomes an enviable reprieve.

“It’s funny everyone comes here, just to avoid [everything],” offered another scout who made the trip to Davidson.

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North Carolina and Wake Forest play at noon Saturday in Winston-Salem, and Duke hosts NC State at 6 p.m., each a two-to-three-hour drive and set to be well attended. The NBA’s annual Basketball Without Borders camp, which tipped off Friday morning and has grown into a must-scout calendar event that consistently features lottery-caliber talent. The three-day showcase continues Saturday morning. On the positive side, whether it’s the sensational play of Israeli guard Deni Avdija, Zion Williamson’s tour de force or both, there’s still plenty of talent to evaluate in North Carolina this weekend. The key, as always, is knowing when and where to look.

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