A black nylon sign hangs over the entrance of St. Frances Academy's gymnasium with a simple, three-word message: "Protect this house."
Playing before a packed hometown crowd Tuesday night, that's exactly what Will Barton did.
The rookie Portland Trail Blazers swingman led "Baltimore's Best," a makeshift squad featuring NBA role players and high school talents from the Charm City, to a 124-109 win over "Team Armour" — a group comprised of big names like Brandon Jennings, Kemba Walker, DeAndre Jordan and Derrick Williams.
"They had a lot of pros on the other team. In fact, their whole team was pros," Barton said as he took pictures with fans after the exhibition. "So for us to come blow them out like that, it just shows that Baltimore's got the best talent."
And it all started with a passing idea. Late last month, Mike Parker, brand director for Under Armour basketball, talked to Jennings about uniting the six NBA players signed with Under Armour for a three-day photo shoot in Baltimore. Not wanting to miss out on an opportunity to play, the Milwaukee Bucks guard suggested an exhibition. Parker figured the players could compete against local talent, and they could hold it at St. Frances, which has a contract with Under Armour.
Three weeks later, Jennings' idea came to fruition. And judging by the excitement that filled St. Frances' gymnasium Tuesday, it was a roaring success.
"It's always good to come back to an inner city like Baltimore," said former Duke star Jay Williams, who had a front-row seat for the action. "To give back to the local community and have guys like DeAndre, Kemba, Brandon and all these guys come through, it's a blessing."
Barton was the best of the best Tuesday. The former Lake Clifton star dazzled the standing-room-only audience with enough highlight-caliber plays to fill a SportsCenter Top 10.
After nearly sitting out with a knee injury, Barton impressed fans early with his long-range game. Midway through the first quarter, he brought fans to their feet with four three-pointers in rapid succession. Then, with the ovation still in effect, he stole the ball from Walker and sprinted the length of the court for a dunk.
"I ain't never know he could make that many shots," said Aquille Carr, the Patterson High standout who joined Barton on "Baltimore's Best." "It was amazing watching him play."
Memphis Grizzlies guard Josh Selby, who showed up at the start of the second quarter, helped Barton share some of the scoring duties in the final three quarters. He hit several timely threes, and drove to the basket at will.
Still, it was Barton with the no-look pass to former Bowie State forward Travis Hyman in the second period. It was Barton with the near-half court three-pointer just before halftime. And it was Barton with the fully extended tomahawk dunk in the game's waning minutes.
All in all, it was a special evening for a community built on basketball.
"I'm not really surprised because Baltimore is basketball," Parker said. "They love basketball. But I didn't expect this kind of excitement."
As for Barton? He was just pleased to protect his house. It hardly mattered that no referees officiated, no stats were kept and no checks were cashed.
"It always feels good to put on for your city," he said.
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