DURHAM — Tracy Smith has played basketball for as long as he can remember. But on Tuesday night, he experienced a basketball first: Smith had to pay someone so he could park in their backyard and get to his game.
"This is just crazy," said Smith, a rising senior at N.C. State. "I never thought I would ever have to pay to get to my own game. I wasn't even late, the game is at 8 and I was here at 6:30."
Smith was one of the fortunate ones. He said his girlfriend kept calling him trying to get in the gym, but to no avail.
She was not the only unlucky one. Erroll Reese, the league's community relations director, estimates that 600 spectators were denied access to N.C. Central University's McDougald-McLendon Gym for the S.J.G. Greater NC Pro Am summer league game. The gym was filled to capacity, 3,100, at 7 p.m.
The draw? Many fans wanted to get a first look at State's incoming freshmen C.J. Leslie, Ryan Harrow and Lorenzo Brown on Team McGladrey go up against North Carolina's incoming freshmen Harrison Barnes, Reggie Bullock and transfer Justin Knox on Team Stackhouse.
Even before the main event the gym was overflowing. With 5 minutes and 15 seconds remaining in the third quarter of the game before the ACC preview, action was halted. League announcer Bill Murphy told the crowd that play could not resume until all the exits were cleared.
"This was unlike anything I have seen in my life," Reese said. "This surpassed my expectations."
McDougald-McLendon Gym resembled anything but a summer league arena. Fans engulfed the floor - filling every seat available and standing under each basket - for the State-UNC matchup.
Cameras flashed, the crowd booed the referees and there was a whole lot of cheering and standing. During the first two games, fans saved their cheers for spectacular windmill dunks, ferocious blocks and lighting-quick crossovers.
But during the Team Stackhouse-Team McGladrey game a simple post move by Smith was met with claps. A three-pointer from Bullock resulted in fans jumping out of their seats. Some people were even yelling at the State players to " 'D' up." Especially Harrow's sister, Tiffany Hatchett.
"I think this is a big test for all the State guys to show what they have against the UNC guys," said Hatchett, 33, a Raleigh resident who plans to go to all of her brother's games this season. "I knew the fans would be excited, but I didn't think this excited."
Hatchett was not the only one surprised.
UNC rising sophomore John Henson was not even planning on playing in the game. He planned to "chill" and rest his broken finger. But after receiving emails, text messages and calls, he knew he had to come out.
When he walked into the gym Henson could not believe his eyes.
"I was like 'whoa,' I didn't know it was going to be like this," said Henson, who was busy talking trash with Smith for most of the game. "I saw a bunch of red, but we showed who was best tonight, I guess."
The UNC recruits were the best on this night, Team Stackhouse won the game 82-72. But if this was any indication, the regular season is sure to a big draw.
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