North Carolina’s best honor Josh Level

The best of the best of North Carolina’s high school basketball players made their way to Southeast Guilford High School in Greensboro the evening of June 7 for an intense evening of hoops action.

The second annual Josh Level Classic brought out a capacity crowd to pay honor to a young man who tragically died on the basketball court. Josh Level, a 17 year-old junior at New Garden Friends School in Greensboro, died in February, 2013 in Winston-Salem due to Myocarditis, a viral infection that causes inflammation of the heart muscle.

Numerous players around the Triad were friends and acquaintances of Level. One of them, his pal and current Longwood University basketball player Kanayo Obi-Rapu, came up with the idea of honoring Level’s memory with an annual charity basketball game. The first Josh Level Classic was played last year in Greensboro, with multiple hoops standouts, including current North Carolina wing Theo Pinson, participating.

This year’s second annual Josh Level Classic brought out the stars, as a virtual who’s who of prep basketball talent in the Tar Heel State, including Harry Giles, Dennis Smith, Kwe Parker, Brandon Childress, Jerome Robinson, Ty Graves, Sacha Killeya-Jones, J.J. Smith, and several others, made their way out for the contest.

Duke-bound Brandon Ingram made an appearance, but did not play in the game. There would have been others, but Bam Adebayo was in Italy, and Jalek Felton in Hungary playing with Team USA.

Level’s father, Joseph Level, served as the game’s public address announcer. He gave an emotional pregame speech, introducing his family and thanking everyone for coming out to honor his son.

“I have a complicated relationship with basketball,” Mr. Level said, fighting back tears. “As much as I hate that we’re having a Josh Level Classic, and I wish that my son were here, thank you for remembering Josh and believing that young men can be role models and ambassadors of change.”

Former Duke point guard and current NBA star Kyrie Irving donated shoes for the players, while another current NBA player, former UNC standout P.J. Hairston, spoke to his native Greensboro crowd.

“I played high school ball with Josh,” Hairston replied. “He had the most heart that I’ve seen in a young player. To hear what happened, it was crazy to me. I was just shocked. This is a lovely moment right here to remember him. To be here, this is big for me.”

In a game of loose defense and highlight-reel plays similar to the McDonald’s All-American Game, the “Karolina” squad, led by Smith, Childress, and Killeya-Jones, defeated the “Diamonds” squad of Giles, Parker, Robinson, and Graves, by a final score of 157-153 in overtime.

Giles led all scorers with an unofficial tally of 40 points and eight rebounds, including seven points in the overtime session, while Smith tallied 35 points, including six in overtime.

The game was close throughout, with five-man teams shuffling back and forth every few minutes. As might be expected in this type of exhibition, there were plenty of high-flying slam dunks, as well as several bricked dunk attempts. Alley-oops were common, as were some incredible slam dunks, including those of the windmill variety.

Defense was lax, but in an exhibition, people want to see dunks, alley-oops, and 3-pointers. And this the young prospects gave the spectators and then some.

Boston College-bound Robinson had 18 points, including six in the decisive overtime period, while Parker and the Wake Forest-bound Childress each tallied 17 points.

When it was all over, the players expressed gratitude at getting to participate in a game for a worthy cause — raising money for awareness and the implementation of automated external defibrillators (AEDs) at schools and other public places to give people who suffer cardiac arrest a better chance of survival.

“It was an honor,” said Childress. “I’m blessed. I want to thank Josh Level’s father. I want to thank my coach and everyone that allowed me to play this game. We just wanted to put on a show for the fans. It was great. I got a chance to throw lobs (alley-oops) against some of the great athletes in North Carolina. We came out and put on a show for the fans.”