KNOXVILLE — Jordan McRae barely had enough time to unpack his bags.
After an unexpected phone call from Tennessee basketball coach Cuonzo Martin on Monday evening, the Volunteers' senior guard again has to pack both his bags and his A-game.
McRae returned to Knoxville on Monday morning after working out and playing at Kevin Durant's Skills Academy in Washington, D.C., last weekend, and his performance there earned him an invitation to the LeBron James Skills Academy, which begins Friday in Las Vegas.
"That's one and two, the best players in the world, whichever order you want to put it in," McRae said Monday night after his team's win in the Rocky Top League. "This is a blessing. This summer's been really good so far, and I'm just looking to make it the best I can.
"This kind of stuff is just really a blessing for me, just to be able to go to all these camps and be able to play in front of NBA scouts. It's a free look you get."
Tennessee's leading scorer last season got plenty of looks across five-on-five pickup games, one-on-one workouts and drills at the Oklahoma City Thunder star's camp. The spotlight may increase in this weekend's event, hosted by the Miami Heat's two-time champion and NBA Finals MVP.
James' academy is more exclusive. Only 20 collegiate players and 80 high school players, generally the top performers at the positional camps hosted by NBA stars Durant (wings), Deron Williams (point guards) and Amar'e Stoudemire (post players), are invited. The camp's sessions are open to NBA scouts and media, who interview players after some workouts.
McRae, who flirted with declaring for last week's draft after a strong close to his junior season, said he was told a scout from every NBA team was in attendance at some point during Durant's event.
"What else can you ask for? You're playing in front of everybody," he said. "They're watching you do your skill work; they're watching you play games; they're watching you walk around. Anything you want, it's right there, and it's up to you to go get it."
Todd Day, the all-time leading scorer at Arkansas and the eighth overall pick in the 1992 NBA draft, and John Lucas, a Maryland All-American, top overall pick in the 1976 draft and 14-year NBA veteran, were two of the camp's coaches.
The roster included some of the top college players in the country, including Duke freshman Jabari Parker, Kentucky's Alex Poythress, Oklahoma State's Markel Brown, Connecticut's DeAndre Daniels, Michigan State's Gary Harris, Wichita State's Cleanthony Early and Memphis' Geron Johnson.
McRae's roommate was controversial Ole Miss sharpshooter Marshall Henderson, who torched the Vols for 60 points in a two-game Rebels sweep last season.
"He's one of the most normal guys I've ever met, surprisingly," McRae said. "You would think, but he ain't jumping around the room. He's just normal.
"I was laying on the bed on my phone, and he walked in. Everybody, even myself, when I'm off the court, I'm totally different [from] when I'm on. That's just a part of it."
McRae said every college player had a chance to guard Durant. Of his own chance against the long-armed, 6-foot-10 three-time NBA scoring champion, the 6-5 McRae said, "It was a turn." Yet he was appreciative of the superstar's participation.
"Durant was there with us to stretch; he did the drills with us; he played with us the whole time," McRae said. "He's real competitive, and he took it seriously. I got a chance to talk to him about my game a little bit.
"He was throwing little tidbits in my ear, and it was a great experience."
McRae expects another one this weekend. Ten of the 25 college players on the roster of last year's LeBron James Skills Academy were drafted. The exposure and chance to shine will increase.
It's hardly been the summer McRae envisioned when it began, but he'll try to make the most of his opportunity with his teammates in mind.
"I was just looking forward to working with my team," he said. "I texted Jeronne [Maymon] when I was there and told him I missed him and just being with him every day. This team is real close.
"We do a lot of things together, so three days away from them, I was wondering what them boys was doing."
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrowntfp.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...
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