Raymond Felton had been laying the groundwork for an opening night prank since before the start of training camp, though it's unlikely he knew it at the time. He was just trying to be a good vet by taking rookie guard Nolan Smith under his wing, offering advice on the intricacies of playing the point in the NBA. He even had the rookie and his family over for Christmas dinner. And Smith was appreciative.
"Ray's my big bro," Smith told Joe Freeman of The Oregonian
. "He's like Coach Nate (McMillan), except he's right there on the court with me in my ear. Every day in practice, if there's something he sees that I should be doing better, he points it out. He's just teaching me all the tricks that he's learned over the last seven years. It's been amazing."
Despite the intrinsic mistrust that Tarheels and Dukies have for each other, when Ray talks, Nolan listens,. Which is why, when Felton told Smith to lead the team onto the floor for the first time of the 2011-12 season, Nolan burst out of the tunnel at full sprint. Only one problem: no one else on the team did.
"Got to initiate the rook," Felton said post-game.
Nolan knew almost immediately that he had been the victim of one of the oldest rookie hazing moves in the book as he looked around for his teammates, who waited a good 10 seconds before joining the former Blue Devil. And it's not as though he's some rube who just fell off the turnip truck. He's been pulling pranks on his teammates since his days at Oak Hill Academy and is currently in the throws of a prank war with Wesley Matthews, so he's not the type to be duped easily, which says something about Felton's quality as a mentor. A veteran prankster playing his first NBA game, at home, had to know he was in prime hazing territory. And yet, when Ray told him to run, Nolan didn't think twice.
I'm supposed to get the crowd hype before they came out," said Smith, who sounded almost honored to have been the butt of the season's first inside joke. "I was so excited, I left the team. I knew they were behind me. That just shows camaraderie. Teammates are always behind you."
Even when they're leaving you alone in front of 20,000 people.