NEW YORK — Nearing the end of his years amid a bizarre American ritual - and nearing 11 p.m. on Saturday - C.J. Leslie emerged from a locker room in the innards of Madison Square Garden looking vaguely weary.
"I'm done," he said, beaming his huge and winning smile, but no, that's not what he meant.
He meant he's done with far-flung nationally televised all-star games, limit two per phenom per NCAA mandate. The 6-foot-8 Holly Springs resident with the shimmering versatility remains undone with the fielding of the question long yammered around him.
In a country with a singular need for victory at basketball by collegians, that question would be which fan base Leslie will elate with his decision to attend next fall, either N.C. State or Connecticut or Florida or Oregon or Kentucky, the last of which would mirror his former Word of God Academy teammate, John Wall.
A planned visit to Florida for this week won't happen, he said, adding for the umpteenth time that parched Wolfpack fans and others could expect an announcement, he said, "I would say shortly, maybe in a couple of weeks. ... I'm definitely ready to just go ahead and get on with it now."
He said this in a hallway abuzz with towering high school students, reporters, reporters who seemed to double as fans, actual fans, unknown sponsor representatives who instructed a reporter to keep questions "clean," and security guards who had to block a fanatic or two from sneaking in for a glimpse at future stardom. Leslie said this after the Jordan Brand Classic all-star game, which once did feature LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Chris Paul, among others, and which late Saturday lured Leslie and 18 other high school players who have lived a few years in the swirl of the question.
Some answered the question at last during game timeouts, a now-familiar rite that probably challenges coaches trying to draw up plays, in the event any try to draw up plays.
Josh Selby, an enviably energetic 6-foot-3 point guard from Baltimore, announced to ESPN during the first half, "It's tough, but I'm going to be a Kansas Jayhawk," adding that he liked Kansas coach Bill Self because of Self's "personality," which "kind of reminded me of myself."
Doron Lamb, from the ever-gathering collection of New York City point guards, announced to ESPN during the second half, "I will be a Kentucky Wildcat," noting that coach John Calipari had proved "good with guards."
With the usual college kingpins thus sated, that left three of 19 Jordan Brand all-stars still undeclared, and down the hallway, going on 11, Leslie in his black-and-red Chicago Bulls-esque sweatsuit fielded the question again. He laughed and said, "I'm still weighing my options."
He had elicited a few of the crowd's many wows at offensive brilliance during the West's 129-125 win over Leslie's East team. Early on, he had reverse-dunked an offensive rebound left-handed and in the next minute had moved like water down the lane and somehow through two defenders for a difficult scoop from the left. He finished with 19 points.
"I mean, it's a great experience," he said. "A lot of kids don't get this chance, so to be one of those kids was very special, and I'm very blessed. ... You know, I think this is the most famous arena, a lot of great things happening here."
Still later, edging toward 11, halfway back up the hall, an observer noted Leslie's on-court chemistry with Brandon Knight, the guard from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who on Wednesday cleared his ear of the questions by choosing Kentucky. Leslie laughed and said, "Ah, well, wasn't bad."
While players such as Selby and Lamb joshed to reporters that they would lobby Leslie, Leslie said lobbying had not saturated the New York week. The elite players with the unusual lives have become roving friends who discuss mostly other things. He said all the attention with the question had been "definitely fun" but now somewhat tiring.
Just about 11, nearing the end of the years of the question and the noise, still midway down the hall, a passerby could see Leslie smile again and say, "I really don't know, to be honest."
Chuck Culpepper is a free-lance writer and author who has covered sports for publications including Newsday, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader and The (Portland) Oregonian.