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His NBA dream began here. Now, memory of Great Falls alum Torrey Craig will never leave

The Herald (Rock Hill, SC) logo The Herald (Rock Hill, SC) 2/14/2020 By Alex Zietlow, The Herald (Rock Hill, S.C.)

GREAT FALLS

For now, in the first half of the Great Falls boys’ basketball team’s senior night on Thursday, Torrey Craig is a spectator.

A real spectator, in fact. The kind who can sit a few rows above the small gym’s scorer’s table, surrounded by the friends and family he grew up with. The kind who can leap out of his seat when Kelton Talford catches and flushes away an alley-oop, and who can throw up three fingers when the Red Devils hit every one of their first six 3-point attempts.

Sure, a cameraman has been taking video footage and photos of him watching the game in the stands since the opening tip. And sure, Craig is a 6-7, 215-pound guard for the Denver Nuggets. He defended LeBron James about four hours before he took a red-eye flight from metropolitan Denver, Col., and found his way to his 2,000-person hometown in Great Falls, S.C. He’s having his high school jersey honored, framed and added to the school’s brand new “Wall of Fame” at halftime of this game.

But still, in these first two quarters, Craig is a spectator.

It seems to suit him. Craig — who won Atlantic Sun Player of the Year at USC Upstate before having a decorated pro career overseas and making the NBA — comes home a lot. Last year, he returned to Great Falls during the NBA All-Star break. He also came back over the summer to help with a local basketball camp.

He enjoys coming home — for many reasons.

“Everybody out there seems like family, man,” Craig told reporters after the game on Thursday. “It’s a close-knit community, close-knit town. I have no problem speaking and thanking those who were involved in supporting me for 10-plus years…

“No one is expecting you to make it out of a small city, small town, small school. I just want to be an inspiration for those guys.”

Great Falls ‘is ecstatic’

As soon as the halftime buzzer sounds, the relative anonymity Craig once had in the first half is gone.

The announcer welcomes him to center court. Cameras and phones follow.

Athletic trainer Jason Nussbaum and Red Devils head coach Alex Fair say a few words, and their introductions are accompanied by a colorful bouquet of flowers (for Craig’s mother, Teresa Mays) and an old No. 23 Great Falls jersey pressed into a frame.

Craig looks at the bulky prize and flashes a gracious smile.

Then, he’s handed the microphone.

Somewhere in the gym, Craig’s old basketball coach laughs: “I was sitting there thinking, when he handed him the mic, ‘Gosh, I hadn’t heard him say but five words in high school,’” joked John Smith, who coached Craig to two state championship appearances during Craig’s junior and senior seasons.

Smith knew Craig well. He’d taken him to AAU tournaments across the state and to neighboring states some weekends — telling college coaches “until he was blue in the face” that Craig, even though he was tall, could play facing the basket.

“My assistant coaches and I ran all the way to Augusta to Charlotte in the spring and summer (so he could) play AAU to be seen — for three years,” Smith said. “I met one parent from Camden at Exit 72 at 12 o’clock at night. Torrey finished playing in a tournament down there. It was the truck stop right there and (the parent) took him on home. He got support from the town and from the community and from the coaching staff.

“He was the kind of person you were very happy to help. He was that kind of kid. And for him to make it to the Denver Nuggets? Oh, this town is ecstatic.”

Although Craig doesn’t need the spotlight, he’s comfortable in it. It shows when he takes the mic and his words echo off the gym’s walls.

“For all the kids, no matter what you’re doing, if you’ve got a dream job or a dream sport you want to play, just keep working for it every day,” Craig says to the crowd. “And it’ll come true.”

Torrey Craig won’t leave

The Red Devils hit 21 threes, the second-most all-time in South Carolina high school basketball history, en route to their 105-22 win over the SC Governor’s School of Science and Math on Thursday. Three different players dunked. And every player — including the team’s seven seniors — scored.

Once the game ends, a crowd forms around where Craig was once spectating. Craig signs the squishy basketballs Great Falls High School gave out before the game. He takes pictures with players who had just played and with students who were wearing their own Craig Denver Nuggets jerseys.

Coach Fair, who coordinated the ceremony between Craig and the team, told his players before the game to take advantage of Craig’s presence.

“Before the game, I asked them who had dreams of playing college basketball...” Fair said. “And I told them, ‘Tonight, you get to touch part of your dream. You get to have a conversation with part of your dream.

“‘He walked through the same halls; ate in the same cafeteria; walked the same streets as you. So the fact that you get to shake his hand or fist bump or just have a moment with him, you gotta take that all in.’”

A little over an hour after the game ends, after all the fans clear out from the gym, Craig leaves for the night. As he does, he passes the frame with his jersey in it — the one he wore throughout high school, when his NBA dreams were still dreams.

“When I first came, my whole thing was that I was trying to go to college,” Craig said. “I wanted to get a scholarship because I knew if I went to college, I would have a better chance of going to the NBA. That was my ultimate goal.

“To see how everything played out and to see your jersey up, it’s special. It’s something I wouldn’t have imagined.”

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©2020 The Herald (Rock Hill, S.C.)

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