VALDOSTA –– The first Coaches vs. Pros game went off without a hitch as the Pros defeated the Coaches 131-112 on Tuesday.
Fans were treated to the best collection of basketball talent from the area as former Valdosta State guards Beau Justice and Jeremiah Hill put on a show for the Pros team coached by Lowndes girls basketball coach Antonia Tookes.
Justice poured in 12 3-pointers to finish with a game-high 40 points. The former Gulf South Conference Player of the Year scored 26 of his 40 points in the second half while Hill overcame a slow first half to score 36 points on the night. The Orlando Magic summer leaguer showcased his feathery shooting touch that earned him GSC Player of the Year honors in 2017, splashing in eight 3s to the crowds’ delight.
“It’s always fun,” Hill said. “I haven’t gotten to play with Beau in I don’t know how long, so it’s always fun to come back and play with people you know and you’ve spent so much time with. A lot of people in college sports don’t understand it’s a brotherhood that you form with these people. You leave practice, you go eat –– everything. It’s fun to get back together –– we play off each other, we know each other really well so it’s easy for us to put on a good show for everyone when we already know what we want to do.”
Hill’s showmanship was on display as he launched a pair of 3s and, a la Stephen Curry, turned around before the ball went in.
“Oh, no [laughs]” Hill said when asked if he’s worked on the shot. “When I release the ball, there’s nothing I can do with it in the air so if I release the ball where I know that it feels good, I feel confident I can turn around and I’ll make the shot.”
Prior to the tip-off, former VSU forward Josh Sparks said he wanted to see how much he had in the tank. The 6-foot-9 high-flyer led the Coaches team with 39 points, finishing several alley-oop slams and even mixed in three 3-pointers for good measure.
“Me, Jeremiah, Beau and Blake—who didn’t get to play tonight—we’re all really good friends and we stay close in contact and we always talk about how great it could’ve been if we could’ve all been on the same court,” Sparks said. “Just getting fun games like this is always fun. There’s so much talent. There’s also a lot of local talent. Guys like Kelvin Martin and Jerome. Those are guys who when I was in college I would play with every summer. It’s just great to showcase Valdosta and show what kind of talent we have in the area.”
Former Valdosta High standout Clarence Smith represented well in his return to the Crimson Coliseum, dropping in 23 points –– 13 in the third quarter. Smith, who currently serves as an assistant coach at Central Missouri, talked about what the game meant to him being back where he made his mark.
“It was unbelievable, man,” Smith said. “It brought back so many memories playing here in this arena. This brought back a lot of memories.”
Smith took particular pleasure in a bit of a duel with Hill as the two guards traded baskets in the second half.
“It was amazing –– he’s a competitor, I’m a competitor,” Smith said. “It’s always good to have two guys to play hard against each other in an event like this, where you want to just showcase for the crowd, that made it competitive. We were going at each other –– he went at me, I went at him. It was a good game all-around.”
Jerome Hill had an impressive game for the Pros with 26 points. The lefty forward knocked down eight 3-pointers and scored 17 points in the first half. Fellow Pros Tremayne Tippins had 15 points while Kelvin Martin had 11 points for the winning side.
Malcolm Pollock had 26 points for the Coaches squad, while former Valdosta High boys basketball coach Antonio Haynes chipped in with 13 points.
The biggest takeaway from the event was the unity shown by the community.
Despite being known as a football town, on a Tuesday in July, fans came out to support a basketball game.
“It feels really good man,” Lowndes head coach Reshon Benjamin said. “It just shows that where we are in this city and how much further we can continue to go going forward. I really do believe that good people are good to people. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some good people in my life and since I called and told them to come out, they came on out. Something that we want to do going forward and make it an even bigger event as the years go forward. Really pleased with the turnout but looking forward to better things in years to come.”
As a player that starred in the area before having a successful college career, Smith sees the growth basketball has made in recent years.
“Basketball here has grown so much over the last couple of years –– being a big football city with Valdosta State winning a national championship, Valdosta High always doing really good and Lowndes High doing really good,” Smith said. “Basketball’s starting to come up. I think Coach Benjamin and his staff are doing a great job here, putting on events like this. It’s just bringing the basketball interest to the area and giving guys here a chance to play basketball and showcase their abilities. It’s been good.”
Another takeaway is the impact that this event potentially had on young players. It gave them an opportunity to watch professional athletes play in front of them and gave them a chance to interact with them once the game was finished. It’s a goal that was accomplished according to Benjamin.
“I believe people’s eyes are opening,” Benjamin said. “Doing an event like this, you never know what it can unlock in the mind of a young person. Coming to the gym and see guys playing professional basketball living out their dream. Sometimes for a young person seeing is believing. So being able to have someone tangible in front of them that’s doing something that they love to do makes it more believable for them too.”