Joel Berry, Grayson Allen to lead ACC All-Stars vs. Crossfire

The ACC All-Star Classic continues a quarter-century tradition of hoops and gospel led by evangelistic Crossfire founders and players Randy Shepherd and Jamie Johnson. The series began in 1993, had two games one year. Like NBA All-Star games, these are fast-paced, high-scoring and entertaining contests. There are also dunk and three-point shot contests.

The series is close. ACC stars won 14 times including by 20 in surpassing the century mark last year, while Crossfire prevailed 12 times.

The game, which usually sells out, again costs $10 a ticket and is in UNC-Asheville’s Kimmel Arena. Tip-off is slated for 4 p.m. Doors open about 2:30. Many players sign autographs for fans.

Allen led Duke to round four of the NCAA tourney, which is the Elite Eight. He peaked statistically as an all-America sophomore, averaging 21.6 points. He then averaged 14.5 and 15.5 points, to finish his Blue Devil career. He is a versatile shooter driving acrobatically, spotting up, and in launching three-pointers.

Allen made 38.5 percent of “treys” at Duke — 41.7% as a soph, and 37 percent as a senior when he tried and made (2.8 per game) more than ever. Allen is a likely favorite in the three-point contest after the Crossfire game, if he enters. He is a career 86 percent foul shooter.

The feisty 6-4 shooting guard can also handle point duties and mix it up with bigger players. He initiates much contact, to the chagrin of opposing players and fans. He is known for last-second trips. In his last hurrah (and boo) against UNC, he backed into a player with his hip and behind. Still, many project him to get drafted late in the first round or early in round two on June 21.

Joel Berry II is also a clutch performer. The slick six foot point guard was the Dean Smith MVP for UNC in 2017-18. He led the Heels in averaging 17.1 points, and with 21 in the finale in round two of playoffs. He averaged over three assists and rebounds per contest. He was a crisp 89 percent in free throws.

He steadily improved his scoring by about two points per season, since he averaged nearly 13 as a sophomore. He averaged 14.7 points, as a key to UNC winning the 2017 national title.

Berry was a finalist for the AAU Sullivan Award for the nation’s overall premier amateur athlete; the award was presented Tuesday. His leadership on the court and role modeling off of it are important to him.. “What I do is bigger than basketball,” he tweeted last year, referring to the “impact we have as athletes” off the court.

That applies to outreach in the exhibition tour, including with Crossfire Ministry. Berry stated to the media the other day that above all he seeks to “connect with people” such as by “how you set an example to live life.”

Joining Berry from UNC is Theo Pinson. Theophilus Alphonso Pinson is an athletic 6-6, 220-pound shooting guard and wing forward. The Greensboro native averaged 10.3 points as a senior, along with 5.1 assists and 6.5 rebounds. He lit it up for 25 points in the win over Miami March 8. A bonus is he hit 82 percent of his foul shots.

Pinson is projected to get drafted, toward the end of the NBA’s second and final round, while Berry is borderline on whether he may get picked. If not, he can try for any team as a free agent.

The ACC barnstorming tour largely represents the four in-state schools. N.C. State has three players this time. The 6-8 Abdul-Malik Abu averaged 13 then 12 points as a sophomore then junior, with nine then eight rebounds a game, then tailed off in ’17-18. The Boston native scored 24.5 points as a prep senior. Allerik Freeman and Lennard Freeman are the other Wolfpack players. Wake Forest is represented by Mitchell Wilbekin.

There is star power on the ACC bench as well. The squad’s head coach is legendary guard Phil Ford, who has been an UNC assistant for 11 seasons. Phil Jackson Ford Jr., 62, was a 6-2 point guard, a deft scorer driving, and heart of the Heels. He was first team All-America three times.

Ford won the John R. Wooden Award as the nation’s top player 40 years ago in 1978, then NBA rookie of the year honor in ’79. The K.C. Kings drafted him second overall. He set a standard, as the first freshman to be MVP in an ACC tourney and to start for Tar Heel varsity.

The last two of these exhibition games each featured a pair of Heel stars on the ACC squad. First were all-America forward Brice Johnson and star point guard Marcus Paige in 2016, then big men Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks last year. Meeks and Hicks, who weigh over 500 pounds together, were on UNC’s sixth men’s national title squad in history. Paige and Johnson also reached the title game, in the year before.

The exhibitions feature halftime sermons by Crossfire co-founders Johnson and Shepherd. Last year, Shepherd said becoming born again can help those feeling empty “physically…spiritually…emotionally.” 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 are available at the UNCA box office, and Leicester Flooring and other select stores. For more on Crossfire programs, check

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