Four ninety-nine

Published 10:05 am Tuesday, August 2, 2016

WINDSOR – It was the 2012-13 ESPN-TrueHoop Network poll, ranking every player in the National Basketball Association from 1-thru-500.

A Golden State Warriors free-agent rookie was number-499.

“Instead of hating it, I embraced it; now, it’s definitely become a part of who I am,” says Atlanta Hawks guard and Bertie High School grad Kent Bazemore.

Bazemore was Number-499 that season. Now, he’s not only a starter, but could be in line to have an All-Star season. With the addition of Atlanta native Dwight Howard returning to his hometown, the Hawks will again be an Eastern Conference contender.

Undrafted out of Old Dominion University and appearing in just 61 out of 82 NBA games, where he averaged just two-points as a rookie – and known more for his sideline antics when teammates would score – Bazemore used that inspiration to power his way to a starting role with the Hawks and for the second straight season led them to the NBA playoffs – last season reaching the conference finals. His reward: a $70 million four-year contract that he signed on his birthday exactly one month ago today.

“My life has gone the right direction in Atlanta — on and off the court,” Bazemore told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution after the signing. “It’s a great fit. I’m beyond elated.”

Bazemore averaged over 11 points and 5.1 rebounds per game for the Hawks last season after moving into a starting role.

On Monday, Bazemore returned to his roots with the start of the third annual Kent Bazemore ASPIRE Basketball Skills Camp at Bertie High School. In between morning and afternoon first-day camp sessions, several members of the Bertie County Commissioners were on hand to present the Kelford native with a special plaque – the Youth Development Award – in honor and recognition of service to the youth of Bertie County.

“This shows my continuous climb, to be where I want to be,” Bazemore said, surrounded by some 30 campers. “My ranking may have changed since then, but this is still my favorite ranking and until I get to where I want to be it won’t change.”

With the awe-struck youngsters looking on, Bazemore gave some instruction without the basketball.

“Without you guys showing up here, being very coachable, and listening to my teaching this makes it that more special to me,” he noted. “I may have been 499, but I felt like I was the best player in the world.”

“It’s not just what he’s done with the Atlanta Hawks,” said County Commission chairman John Trent, “but also the leadership he’s shown in the community, and for taking care of business here in Bertie County.”

Fellow Commissioners Tammy Lee and Ernestine Byrd Bazemore – a BHS teacher during Kent’s four years of high school – were also on hand for the presentation.

“Anytime people notice your work or congratulate you its special,” Bazemore acknowledged. “At the end of the day I’m not doing this because of me but because I draw from people who say things like ‘keep doing what you’re doing’, or even if they just say ‘thank you’ it goes a long way and it makes me smile like it would anyone else. I’m appreciative of what I have and appreciative that the county has embraced my efforts.”

Bazemore’s camp will run at the high school gym through Wednesday.