By Pete Zamplas- A standout UNC trio headlines the touring ACC All-Stars, who play the local Crossfire Ministry on this Sunday, April 14. The current Tar Heel trio on the ACC squad is husky forward Luke Maye, forward Cameron Johnson, and Kenny Williams.
N.C. State’s Torin Dorn is another headliner. Other ACC all-stars include Duke’s Brennan Bessar and Antonio Vreankovic, and Wake Forest’s Ikenna Smart, Aaron Spivey an Anthony Bilas (son of Jay Bilas, ESPN analyst and former Duke Star). These touring all-stars are seniors from the four ACC schools in this state.
Tip-off is at 2:30 p.m., in UNC-Asheville’s Kimmel Arena. Slam dunk and three-point contests follow. Tickets are each $10, and general admission. The exhibition often sells out. Doors open at 1 p.m.
The exhibition series has been fast-paced, high-scoring and close over 25 games with the series nearly split.
Organizers are Crossfire guards Randy Shepherd and Jamie Johnson. They founded the sports evangelistic ministry in 1993, travel around the globe, and run area basketball camps.
Their halftime sermons are a key component of Crossfire-ACC exhibitions.
Other players typically also give testimonies at the event. Former UNC star Al Wood has done so. The 6-foot-6 wing shooter was the NBA’s fourth overall pick in the 1981 draft.
UNC has had strong representation on the ACC all-stars, over the year. All-America forward Brice Johnson and star point guard Marcus Paige played in 2016, then big men Kennedy Meeks (6-foot-10, 260 lbs.) and Isaiah Hicks (6-9, 242) in ’17, then last year floor leader Joel Berry along with Duke’s fiery Grayson Allen.
Luke Maye personally demolished Duke by scoring inside at will, in that game in which Zion Williamson departed after injuring himself when his tennis shoe ruptured. Maye scored 30 and grabbed 15 rebounds. His season best was 31 vs. N.C. State. He scored at least 20 in seven games, including UNC’s last win. That was March 24, over Washington in playoff round two.
Maye averaged 17 points as a junior then 15 in ‘18-19, and over 10 rebounds in both seasons. Maye, 6-8 and 240, is from Huntersville.
Cameron Johnson (6-9, 210) averaged 17 points and six boards as a senior. The Pennsylvanian scored 23 in the one-point loss to Duke in the ACC tourney, then 21 in the NCAA opener.
Kenny Williams (6-4, 185) averaged 11 points as a junior, then nearly nine as a senior. He scored ten March 29, when UNC fell to Auburn.
Crossfire’s roster has had such familiar former high school stars as West Henderson ’07 grad Sam Smithson, a WCU Catamount alumnus, and Pisgah Bear (’06) and Brevard College alum Jonathan Whitson. They were 20-point prep scorers, as seniors.
Smithson, 6-9, told The Tribune that “the most important way to play basketball is to play for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” He played on Crossfire for the past half-decade. He married late last year. In 2017, Smithson started studying in Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest.
Whitson, on Crossfire since 2010, is back for more this time. He said “The main purpose of this game is for the halftime show, to share the Gospel.” He added that “it’s fun to play these (ACC) guys.”
Whitson this month was hired as boys varsity head coach of his alma mater Pisgah, after coaching there for the last four seasons as a Bears’ assistant. He succeeds Casey Kruk, the hardcourt Papa Bear since 2008.
Rugged, 6-6 Whitson and center Jake Robinson led Pisgah to the 2-A state hoops title in 2005 — most recent of any WNC boys’ squad. Whitson then set 12 BC marks.
Whitson, who turns 30 this year, is now dome-headed. He married three years ago, and had his first child nearly two years back. In a recent Crossfire sermon, Shepherd praised Whitson for remaining pure for his marriage.
Crossfire’s other players include 6-10 John Cannon, Daniel Burchette of North Buncombe (’15) and North Greenville U., three-point gunner Matt Dickey (UNCA, NBADL), Willie Battle (Reynolds ‘88, WCU), Rob Noyes (Freedom H.S. ’12, Lenoir-Rhyne), and Jerome Ramsey who coaches East Burke and last year went into Mars Hill’s Athletics Hall of Fame.
Cannon blocked a state-record 606 shots for Mountain Heritage in four years, as fierce rival of Hendersonville Bearcats. He was all-state, as a senior. He was a Georgia Bulldog reserve for three years, then finished at UNCA.
Matt Costello played for Crossfire in ’16 and ’17, starting right after his Michigan State career. His alma mater reached the latest Final Four. He played professionally in Italy, and with his contract up now looks to return to play pro in the U.S. The 6-9, 245 charismatic post player told The Tribune about Crossfire that “it’s so important to have this platform, to impact lives for the Lord.”
James Hungerford, Asheville High School Class of 1984, was a sophomore when Shepherd was an AHS senior in ‘81-82. He recalled the star guard as very “confident” and popular. Both also went to UNCA.
Shepherd told the crowd in his halftime sermon in ’17 that becoming born again can help those feeling empty “physically…spiritually…emotionally.” He used a hoops metaphor by stating that in striving for a sin-free life, “none of us have made all of our shots.”
Johnson spoke of redemption. He described a domino effect of faith, repentance, salvation and eternal life. He said the goal is to become a “national champion — for all of eternity.”
Tickets were still available in most Kimmel sections, of Sunday night. The onlink link to buy tickets is:
The $10 tickets are available in person at the UNCA box office, and these businesses: Leicester Flooring, Arsenal Athletics, Showtime Sports & Trophies, All-Star Trophy & Sports. For more on Crossfire programs, check crossfireministry.com.