The Dave Telep Carolina Challenge permeates throughout the ACC, and perhaps the stage won't be any bigger than Saturday's matchup with No. 1-ranked Duke playing at No. 20 NC State at PNC Arena.
The nationally televised ESPN game has been hyped for weeks as the battle of the top two teams in the ACC. NC State entered the season the No. 1 pick in the ACC by both the media and league coaches, with junior power forward C.J. Leslie the player of the year choice and freshman shooting guard Rodney Purvis the rookie of the year selection. Both players played in the Carolina Challenge.
Some of the NC State and Duke players have histories with each other that stretch back at least six years, and maybe longer. NC State (13-2 overall, 2-0 ACC) and Duke (14-0, 2-0 league) will have a combined eight players who played in the Dave Telep Carolina Challenge. NC State features Leslie and freshmen Tyler Lewis, T.J. Warren and Purvis (and starting NCSU left tackle Rob Crisp is also an alum). Duke counters with seniors Mason Plumlee, Ryan Kelly and Seth Curry, and freshman Marshall Plumlee, though Kelly will miss the game with a foot injury.
Warren in fact, holds the record with 40 points in a game (in roughly 20 minutes of action) during the 2011 Carolina Challenge. He's one of nine former McDonald's All-Americans that played in the event.
"I've learned since I've been here that there is great young talent in our state," NC State coach Mark Gottfried said. "There are a lot of really good players from the state of North Carolina, and you look around the country at the different rosters, they are playing everywhere. The fact that there is eight of them in this game shows the good talent.
"A lot of it, quite honestly, has been right around Raleigh. They've gone off and played at other places, but that is something we want to change."
ESPN recruiting analyst Dave Telep brings in 80 players — juniors, sophomores and freshman — from across the state during the last Saturday in March at Raleigh Ravenscroft. Some of the players play against each other in high school or play with or against each other in AAU basketball, but it's an ideal way for players to test their games and make new friends.
Many members of the first Carolina Challenge in 2007 graduated from college last year, though a few are still sprinkled as fifth-year seniors in college basketball such as Curry of Duke. Twenty-eight DTCC alums dot ACC rosters this season, covering every school in the league except Boston College and Georgia Tech.
"Until we started this, I never realized how many guys, the sheer number of guys our state produces for the ACC [30 total]," Telep said. "You can watch Duke, Carolina, Wake Forest and NC State, and you can have five guys on the floor that played in the Carolina Challenge. It's pretty cool and a neat experience. It puts things in perspective how good our state is in basketball."
Telep pointed out that Leslie and UNC junior forward Reggie Bullock of Kinston High played each other in the Carolina Challenge for three straight years.
"They developed the core of their rivalry and you can trace it back to the Carolina Challenge a little bit," Telep said. "The first year, Kelly and Plumlee were there, and people wondered which one was better. We are still talking about that to a degree."
NC State hosts North Carolina on Jan. 26 with ESPN Game Day crew in town, and Plano (Texas) Prestonwood Christian star senior forward Julius Randle in Raleigh for his official visit.
The contest will have a combined seven Carolina Challenge alums.
"C.J. and I were both the top players in the state, but I didn't matchup against him personally," Bullock said. "I know what he's capable of doing, and he's a great player. I know Rodney Purvis, and played AAU with him for CP3. I'm cool with Seth Curry. We are all cool with each other. When we get on the hardwood, it's a whole new game."
Whether on a national stage or in a back gym at Cary (N.C.) Academy, another Challenge location in the past, guys like Leslie and Mason Plumlee have long matched up against each other. The only thing different is the stakes are much higher for their respective college programs.
"We've gone against each other since high school at [Raleigh] Word of God," Leslie said. "[Mason and I] are real competitive, but there is no beef or anything like that. He's just somebody that I'm friends with on the court."
Leslie, Plumlee and Kelly, played against each other at the Carolina Challenge, on the high school level, traveling teams, individual camps or at the North Carolina Pro-Am. The history is long and the bragging rights are remembered.
"I think we first played against each other at the Carolina Challenge put on by Dave Telep," Mason Plumlee said. "That was so long ago. He's always been an athlete and played above the rim. That's been consistent throughout.
"There will be something on the line when we play. I love playing against him. He's an athlete, a competitor and whenever we play, it's always a good game."
Leslie and Plumlee know each other's games well enough to know to avoid getting posterized on dunk attempts. Leslie leads NC State in scoring with 15.6 points to go along with 7.3 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per contest, while Plumlee has enjoyed a breakout season for Duke with 17.7 points, 11.4 rebounds and 1.6 blocks a game.
"I can say we both know each other's game after playing so long against each other, and we definitely know what's coming in certain situations," Leslie said.
DraftExpress.com currently has Plumlee slotted No. 11 for the 2013 NBA Draft, and Leslie No. 24. John Wall of the Washington Wizards, Miles Plumlee of the Indiana Pacers and Quincy Miller of the Denver Nuggets are the first three players to make the NBA that played in the Carolina Challenge.
Leslie has the option of returning for his senior year, which is an action that has paid off well for Plumlee in his development on the court. Leslie said he doesn't gauge his game against Plumlee's even though they have known each other for so long.
"I can't say that I have, but I've known him for so long and seeing him on the court, it's like 'Oh, whatever,'" said Leslie on facing the 6-10 product from Arden (N.C.) Christ School. "It's not like, 'Oh, I'm going to guard him and show him who's best. Obviously, on the court, we are going to compete and that's what we are here for. We'll go at each other and we want to win at the end of the day."
Plumlee remembers helping Christ School top Word of God in the 2008 GlaxoSmithKline Invitational at Raleigh Broughton High. Plumlee had 20 points in the 76-73 win, while Leslie had 18. The two NCISAA private school powers didn't meet in the playoffs because Christ School was 3A and Word of God 1A. The Carolina Challenge and shoe-sponsored camps or tournaments filled the void.
Plumlee said Leslie did a good job of accepting the role of being "the guy," which he has done himself for the Blue Devils this season.
"I think that's been good for him," Plumlee said. "Even in high school when we played him my senior year, they had John [Wall] on the team, so he wasn't 'The guy.' I think he's better in that role. But I know we won [at GSK Invitational]. You can't forget that since that was to win the tournament."
Plumlee also remembers making his first game-winning jumper against NC State junior point guard Lorenzo Brown's prep team, Roswell (Ga.) Centennial, in 2009. Plumlee and senior wing Scott Wood played growing up on various AAU teams in Indiana.
"I know I'll hear about it," said Plumlee on the trash talk if NC State defeats Duke. "I'm sure I'll see C.J. again going forward too [in the NBA]."
Wake Forest senior guard C.J. Harris will sometimes think back to his prep memories against various players.
"It's pretty cool to see how far they've grown and how big they've gotten, and to watch their progress," Harris said.
Curry, like Plumlee, is another potential NBA prospect for the Blue Devils.
"I always go back and look at what he averaged in the Carolina Challenge because he was like amongst the last 15 scorers in the event that year [in 2007]," Telep said. "Two years after that, he's almost leading the NCAA in scoring [at Liberty, his previous college before transferring to Duke]. It's amazing."
Telep still fondly remembers Warren's 40-point outing.
"He doesn't jack shots, but he's just the best tough shot-maker to come through the Carolina Challenge ever," Telep said.
Miami fifth-year senior center Reggie Johnson also proudly holds a record at the Carolina Challenge.
"Dave is my guy and I had the record for most Chick-fil-A sandwiches eaten at the Challenge, and he'll tell you that because I had seven in one day," Johnson said. "I got a lot of history with a lot of these guys. It's fun to battle them. Whenever I'm back in Winston-Salem, I'm with C.J. Harris. C.J. Leslie and Mason Plumlee are real cool dudes. I never expected that from Mason, but he's a cool dude."
The players like to follow each other during the season, and many have become good friends, with Florida State junior point guard Ian Miller of Charlotte perhaps the most popular.
"It's real good seeing the state of North Carolina represent so well," said Virginia Tech junior forward Jarell Eddie, who went to Concord (N.C.) Cannon School. "You have the Dave Telep Challenge, and now we are going up against each other all the time, with guys from my state and guys representing their [ACC] teams."
Four more players from the class of 2012 signed with ACC schools this past November — Oxford (N.C.) Webb power forward Isaiah Hicks and West Charlotte center Kennedy Meeks going to North Carolina, Winston-Salem product Greg McClinton of Chatham (Va.) Hargrave Military Academy staying home for Wake Forest, and Charlotte Christian shooting guard Patrick Rooks to Clemson.
ACC newcomers Louisville and Pittsburgh also will have former Carolina Challenge players when they join the league. Louisville will feature Raleigh native Anton Gill, a senior shooting guard at Hargrave Military Academy, and Tarboro, N.C., product Montrezl Harrell, a freshman power forward. Pittsburgh inked Raleigh Word of God senior point guard Josh Newkirk last November.
The joke has been that Syracuse and Notre Dame won't truly be ACC teams until they add a Carolina Challenge alum.
NC State is at the forefront already for the next group of Carolina Challenge alums to play in the ACC. Junior twin brothers Caleb Martin and Cody Martin of Mocksville (N.C.) Davie County, who verbally committed to NC State in October, are also two-time participants in the Carolina Challenge. Wake Forest also earned a verbal commitment last Friday from Waxhaw (N.C.) Cuthbertson High junior point guard Shelton Mitchell, another two-time participant.
The trio will be some of the headliners March 23 at Raleigh Ravenscroft in the seventh annual Dave Telep Carolina Challenge.
"I think at one point last year that 18 percent of the ACC had played in the Carolina Challenge," Telep said. "I'm proud of the fact that our state puts aside whatever perceived shoe allegiances there are and turf wars, and for one day, we have the very best kids in this state under one roof."
Telep is also proud of giving some players from different part of the state a chance to prove themselves. UNC sophomore power forward Jackson Simmons and Georgia sophomore center John Cannon were both from the mountains in the western part of North Carolina, and didn't always face other Division I prospects with their prep teams.
"He would write stuff on his wall at home about the Carolina Challenge because he realized that was his chance to prove himself against other guys," Telep said. "He would think about it a year at a time, and just a chance to see one of those guys was big for him.
"Watching John Cannon grow up in the Carolina Challenge was pretty cool. He got better every year."
The class of 2016 will be the next chapter added to the Carolina Challenge this spring. Already a few could be ready to etch their names in the lore of the event.
"This year, we might have the best player to ever play in the Carolina Challenge, and I think that could be Harry Giles," Telep said.
The High Point (N.C.) Wesleyan Christian freshman forward will be one of the new headliners for the next three years if he remains in the state.
The motivation to continue the event remains strong thanks to the influx of new talent each year.
"There has been a couple of times where I'll think, 'Maybe is the time to end this thing,'" Telep said. "Then my son, who talks year-round about being a ball boy, and he'll say something. Then you just have to do it. We'll do it as long as the kids in the state enjoy it and as long as I enjoy it."