Pickup with the President
Jan. 21, 2011
Editor's note: Wolfpack fans at Sunday's NC State-Miami basketball game can show their appreciation for the former players who are returning for a reunion during halftime, when they will be recognized for their contributions to the program's storied history.
RALEIGH, N.C. - On Thanksgiving weekend, former NC State basketball player Scooter Sherrill's cell phone was abuzz.
He got dozens of text messages and voicemails, most of which were along the lines of "Scooter, did you do that?"
The questions began shortly after news reports that President Barack Obama had suffered a split lip during a friendly game of pickup basketball at Washington's Fort McNair. It seems the prez was the unlucky recipient of an elbow to face while playing defense.
"I wasn't even in Washington at the time," said Sherrill, who now resides in the capital city with his wife. "I was down in North Carolina with my family. But it seemed like everybody kind of assumed it was me."
The real culprit was Rey Decerega, the director of programs for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute. And he got a fair amount of press for giving the president a fat lip.
Obama needed 12 stitches to zip up the gash. At least he didn't have to get a gold tooth, like the one Sherrill proudly flashed throughout his playing days with the Wolfpack.
Sherrill, 29, has become a semiregular in the games, which are arranged by his former AAU teammate Reggie Love, the former Duke player who is now Obama's personal assistant. Sherrill and Love played together for the Charlotte Royals traveling team and against each other for four years in college.
Sherrill, who spent a couple of years playing professionally overseas when his Wolfpack career ended in 2004, settled in Washington after signing with the Maryland GreenHawks of the Premier Basketball League. After stints at every corner of the globe - Poland, Iceland, Venezuela, Mexico, Australia and North Dakota - Sherrill is still looking to play professional basketball. But currently, he's working as a property inventory specialist for the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.
This weekend, he'll be back in Raleigh as part of the reunion of all former NC State basketball players, coaches and support personnel. Nearly 100 former players will be on hand for Sunday's NC State-Miami game and will be recognized at halftime of the game.
Last spring, Sherrill and his wife were at dinner one evening at the W Hotel, across the street from the White House, when he happened to bump into Love. They reminisced about their playing days, and Love asked if he was interested in playing in a pickup game with some friends from the White House.
A couple of weeks later, a black van with tinted windows picked him up on Pennsylvania Avenue and took him to Camp David, which now has outdoor basketball courts for presidential pickup games.
He spent about three hours running games with the president and various legislative aides and friends.
"It was the greatest basketball experience I ever had," Sherrill said.
And he's repeated the performance four or five times since then, joining Love and the presidential entourage at Fort McNair for their semi-regular games. He's also gotten to go against some former college foes now playing in the NBA, like Steve Blake of Maryland, Kevin Durant of Texas and Chris Duhon and Dahntay Jones of Duke. It's just like old times, except for the guys in dark shades on the sidelines.
"We spend about three hours when we play," Sherrill said. "It's always a great experience."
While playing ACC basketball was always pressure-packed, Sherrill says nothing is quite like the pressure of trying to guard the president, who doesn't get Secret Service escorts into the lane. Apparently, he doesn't need it.
"Oh, he'll call a foul," Sherrill said, laughing. "He doesn't let you get away with anything. I remember I tried to slap the ball out of his hands one day and sort of raked him across the face.
"I was looking around to see if the Secret Service might be coming after me. They're always right there. You always have to watch your back."
One time, he did go face-to-face with the commander in chief.
"He got me on the elbow when I was going up for a shot and I called it," Sherrill said. "He said `Are you really going to call that?' But I did. You know, growing up, you never imagine that one day you might have to call a foul on the president of the United States."
By Tim Peeler, firstname.lastname@example.org.