For a guy known to Duke fans as the People’s Champ, the offseason is not a time to sit and do nothing—Nolan Smith is using his time to champion awareness and understanding of teen cancer.
The Blue Devil special assistant and former star guard is leading the 2017 Teen Cancer America Hoop-a-Thon, which will take place July 22 at the Emily K Center in Durham from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Teen Cancer America helps educate American hospitals about cancer in teenagers and young adults, and Smith became a celebrity sports ambassador for the organization last December.
“It’s something that I was happy to add to my plate,” Smith said. “When you’re passionate about something, you make time for it.”
Although Smith said none of his immediate family members have been affected by cancer, he started developing a passion for the cause as a student at Duke, when he visited the Children’s Hospital as part of the nonprofit organization The Monday Life.
Since becoming a Teen Cancer America ambassador, Smith has made a few trips to the hospital each month to visit with patients, usually stopping by on his way home from work at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
“I’m giving them something positive, just letting them know that they have someone that’s admiring what they’re going through and how strong they are,” Smith said.
Participants in the hoop-a-thon can register in teams of up to 25 shooters and will score as many points as they can in four minutes on the court. Shooters have to start a fundraising campaign on pledgeit.org to register with a goal of raising $20 per point their team scores in pledges from family and friends.
Smith said all the money raised from the event will hopefully help build a teen cancer center inside the hospital where patients can take a break to have fun and interact with each other.
Duke assistant coaches Jon Scheyer, Jeff Capel and Nate James, as well as current members of the team and former Blue Devil guard Quinn Cook—a close friend of Smith who now plays for New Orleans Pelicans—will all volunteer at the event and be paired up with teams of shooters.
Representatives from other area schools, including former N.C. State star T.J. Warren, former North Carolina big man Brice Johnson and N.C. Central head coach LeVelle Moton also are among a long list of celebrity volunteers.
For the Duke team, it will be an early opportunity to get to know fans after the players moved into campus for summer classes last week.
Smith said senior guard Grayson Allen visited the hospital on occasion last year with Abby Pyne, a former women’s soccer player who started “Athlete Wednesdays” after her career was cut short by injuries and now leads a group of athletes to the Duke Children’s Hospital every week.
Smith is hopeful that the hoop-a-thon and his role with Teen Cancer America will encourage players to do even more for the community in the future.
“As Duke basketball moves forward, we want our players to be more involved, get involved and see that we can use our gifts in a different way,” Smith said. “How can we involve Duke basketball and Duke basketball players and get them out there and putting smiles on these kids’ faces? That’s something that they as players want to do.”
To register for the hoop-a-thon, follow the instructions on its website or contact Jeremy Deckelbaum at email@example.com.