Teen cancer fundraiser taps into Duke-UNC rivalry
This weekend, in gyms on both sides of college basketball’s fiercest rivalry, the sport will be used as a force for good no matter the shade of blue.
Nolan Smith and Brice Johnson, basketball combatants turned friends, have teamed up to organize hoop-a-thon fundraisers to support Teen Cancer America initiatives at Duke Cancer Institute and the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Throughout the summer, people have been able to sign up to shoot baskets representing either UNC or Duke. On Saturday in Chapel Hill and Sunday in Durham, they’ll take to the court aiming to make as many baskets as they can in a two-minute period.
Pledges have been collected for each made basket with funds going toward the Duke and UNC cancer centers.
As an added twist, a trophy will go to whichever side of the rivalry raises the most money this year. The idea is for the trophy to be up for grabs each year beginning this year.
The two former players represented Duke and UNC at the sport’s highest levels, with each becoming an NBA first-round pick following their college careers.
Smith helped Duke win an NCAA championship as a junior in 2010. As a senior, he was named the 2011 ACC Player of the Year before Portland selected him in the NBA Draft that summer.
Johnson was a consensus All-American as a senior in 2016 when he led UNC to the NCAA Final Four where the Tar Heels lost to Villanova in the national championship game. The Los Angeles Clippers selected him in the NBA Draft that summer.
Smith, now the director of basketball operations on Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski’s staff, became a Teen Cancer Ambassador in 2016. He has held Hoop-a-Thon events the past two years in Durham with current and former Blue Devils like Jayson Tatum, Grayson Allen, RJ Barrett and Zion Williamson among the players making appearances to interact with participants.
Johnson crossed enemy lines to join him at Hoop-A-Thons, too, before becoming a Teen Cancer America ambassador himself this year.
The idea for dueling events on both campuses grew from there.
“Brice has supported the TCA Hoop-a-Thon since the beginning, showing a side of the Duke-Carolina rivalry that most folks never see,” Smith said. “I was so excited when he became a TCA ambassador and we started planning these competing events, which will raise even more money for Teen Cancer America and the amazing work they do.”
Johnson’s UNC event will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday at the school’s Dean E Smith Center Practice Facility.
Smith’s Duke event is 11 a.m. on Sunday at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Participants in each will pay a $25 entry fee and will receive a gift bag including a T-shirt and other items. Each participant is challenged to raise at least $120 for Teen Cancer America.
“Nolan’s work with TCA, helping young people fighting cancer at Duke and UNC hospitals, definitely inspired me,” Johnson said. “I’m counting on all my Tar Heels out there to register for the event in Chapel Hill or go online and make a donation so we can beat Duke!”
In addition to the gift bags, prizes will be raffled off and a silent auction for sports and musical memorabilia will be held for all attendees, including spectators and participants.
Donations are being accepted for non-participants with donors having the option of sending their money to either Smith’s Duke or Johnson’s UNC event. Information is available at TCAhoopathon.com.
Teen Cancer America was founded in 2012 by Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend of the rock group The Who. Its goal is to bridge the gap between the pediatric and adult oncology services provided a cancer treatment facilities nationwide.