East-West All-Stars: Vanderford plays with the big boys
By Mike London
GREENSBORO ó It may be the last time Justin Vanderford plays in front of a big crowd with referees who aren’t students.
Statistically, the East Rowan graduate had the quietest night since early in his freshman year. He scored five points on 2-for-7 shooting and added three rebounds and two steals for the West in a 99-93 loss in Monday’s annual East-West All-Star Game at Greensboro Coliseum.
Vanderford watched the last 10 minutes from the bench and was on the floor only four minutes in the second half, but he still relished every practice and every moment of All-Star week.
Twenty years from now, the record book will show a 5-foot-9 guy from Rockwell was part of an event in which the list of guards includes Pete Maravich, Phil Ford and John Lucas.
“I met a lot of great people, I got to play with some really great players, I had a great time and I’ll always know I did my best,” Vanderford said.
Vanderford’s teammates included Virginia Tech- bound Victor Davila, a 6-9 workhorse who kept the West in the hunt with 24 points and 13 rebounds.
The East’s athletic roster was loaded and included 7-1 Tyler Walker (Wake Forest), 6-6 C.J. Williams (N.C. State) and 6-5 Justin Watts (North Carolina). Kinston’s 6-5 Bo Ingram, who scored 24 points, was MVP.
Vanderford usually was matched up defensively with quick, 6-2 jumping jack Adonte McCarter, who is headed to Pitt Community College. McCarter drilled two jumpers over Vanderford, blocked his layup attempt and also took him to the rim a few times. McCarter scored 13 points and looked like a D-I prospect.
Coming off the bench late in the first quarter, Vanderford scored quickly on a steal and layup, and he also connected on a wide-open 3-pointer, the sort of shot that enabled him to score 21 points per game at East as a senior and set the school’s all-time scoring mark with 1,684 points.
Vanderford also made a diving hustle play on a loose ball that created fast-break free throws for the West, but his shots stopped falling. In and out, in and out, in and out, even though his teammates found him several times for clean looks.
Vanderford didn’t take any bad shots, but two squared-up 3s and a follow on a long rebound wouldn’t drop when he got a chance to play in the third quarter.
“I was so open that I mighta been too open,” Vanderford said with a smile. “But that’s OK.”
South Rowan coach John Davis, who had his hand full with Vanderford for four years, was on hand, maybe just to make sure the little guy was really finished at East.
“Justin’s a tremendous player,” Davis said. “But some players are better suited for all-star games than others. Justin is the product of a system. Let these all-stars practice together as a team for two months, and Justin would excel.”
The assistant coach for the West was Davie’s Mike Absher. He has a healthy respect for Vanderford and was one of the coaches who fought for his inclusion on the elite team.
“It was great to be on Justin’s side for a change, after all those 3-pointers he’s made against us,” Absher said. “It was a joy working with him all week not only because he can play but because he’s a good kid that loves the game. I’m thrilled he got a chance, and I thought he played well. He was just a few rolls from having a great game.”
Absher’s son, Drew, a rising senior at Davie County, will be a candidate to play in the game next summer.
“Drew really respects Justin,” Absher said. “As a little man, he was very happy when Justin made it into this game.”
Vanderford made it, but he was exhausted, despite playing only 14 minutes.
“The tiredest I’ve been in my life,” he said. “These other guys are working out with their college teams now. I’m not. I did the best I could to get in shape.”
At this point, Vanderford still expects to enroll at East Carolina and try to walk on for the Pirates.
“I’m 5-9, and it’s pretty tough when you’re 5-9,” he said. “But after this week, I do believe I can play with the best. I’m going to keep working on things, and I hope I’ll get a chance to keep playing ball.”