CHARLOTTE — Surrounded by reporters on the second floor of the Ritz-Carlton in Charlotte on Wednesday for the Atlantic Coast Conference’s annual preseason media day, Wake Forest’s Keyshawn Woods smiled when asked about basketball in North Carolina.
“The best basketball state in America. This is the hoop state,” said Woods, a redshirt junior guard for the Demon Deacons who grew up in the Charlotte area.
“We feel like we have the best basketball players. When you hear ‘Hoop State,’ that’s what comes to mind for me.”
Woods was one of seven players from the Tar Heel state, representing five of the ACC’s men’s basketball teams, that found some common ground on Wednesday.
The nickname “Hoop State” has surfaced on social media in recent years from proud promoters of the Tar Heel state’s rich basketball history. The list of great players from the state seems endless, with Wilmington’s Michael Jordan leading the way and Fayetteville’s Dennis Smith Jr. as one of the latest examples.
Raleigh’s Jerome Robinson and Havelock’s Ky Bowman, the formidable backcourt duo for Boston College, take it a step further when conversations arise about the “Hoop State.”
“We always joke around in practice about it. I always say ‘N.C. connection’ when we do a great play in practice and I start laughing,” Bowman said.
“Our connection that we made (when I arrived on campus last year as a freshman) was very strong. It’s going to be harder for people to understand the things that we go through.”
Bowman said North Carolina always comes to the forefront of his mind when he thinks about basketball.
“I think of a place where some of the best players come from, not just in college, but the high school level,” he said. “Even those who go to the west coast, they’ll always be from the hoop state.”
Robinson echoed his teammate’s remarks, pointing to the traditional love of the game in his home state.
“I would just say that the history behind basketball in North Carolina is what gave us the ‘Hoop State’ name,” he said. “Tons of players have come out of the area. … everybody wants to be a hooper.
“There’s an honor behind being a North Carolina hooper. It’s a cool thing and we’ll definitely take it.”
Shelby’s Gabe DeVoe, a senior guard at Clemson, said he’s often had “Hoop State” discussions with a few of the Tigers’ football players on campus.
“It’s definitely North Carolina. Even the football guys back at school, we always joke about where the hoop state is, and even they agree that it’s North Carolina,” DeVoe said.
Allerik Freeman, a Charlotte native who transferred from Baylor to N.C. State, said he enjoys being in the “No. 1 basketball state” again for his final year of college basketball.
“It’s just fun being back home, hooping in my home state,” Freeman said.
“I’d probably say North Carolina is No. 1, then the Northeast and D.C. But as far as the south goes, I feel like North Carolina runs it. Even when I was in the Big 12, I always found myself watching ACC games. It’s good to finish my career being a part of it.”
Representing the Tar Heels at the event, Greensboro’s Theo Pinson and Huntersville’s Luke Maye stayed on message with keeping their home state at the center of the basketball world.
“Basketball is the biggest sport in this state,” Maye said. “You have so many great players from Theo to (former Duke player) Harry Giles, (former N.C. State standout) Dennis Smith, guys who lit it up and our doing great things for the state.”
Pinson agreed. It also doesn’t hurt that the senior forward plays for the Tar Heels — the reigning national champions.
“The best players come from North Carolina,” he said. “We know we have some other states and competition, but at the end of the day, (at positions) one through five, we can put somebody out there and compete with anybody.
“We’ve got a lot of guys that can play. Anywhere you go in North Carolina, people recognize you because you’re from the state and you play for North Carolina.”
Rodd Baxley can be reached at 910-416-5182. Follow him on Twitter @RoddBaxley.