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ACC-Crossfire hoops is Saturday; Shepherd, Johnson take ministry to hardwood


Crossfire co-founder Randy Shepherd does ball-spinning, at halftime of a prior ACC-Crossfire contest.

The game starts 4 p.m. in UNC-Asheville’s Kimmel Arena. Doors open an hour ahead. Many players will give autographs. Admission is $10 per person.

The contest also involves a spirited halftime session by organizers Shepherd and Johnson, with testimonies of faith and also dunk and three-point shooting contests and basketball stunts. Shepherd spins a basketball in such ways as on a cellphone, on spoon while eating ice cream, and on a tooth brush while brushing his teeth and on a cell phone. He demonstrates ballhandling tricks that made the late “Pistol Pete” Maravich one of his early heroes.

The 22nd ACC-Crossfire exhibition follows the NCAA title game (Duke-Wisconsin this time) each April, and is part of a game tour by ACC seniors. The Crossfire contest began in 1994 with 2,500 fans jamming Asheville High for Duke superstar forward Grant Hill. The game soon featured another national player of the year who starred in the NBA, in center Tim Duncan of Wake Forest in 1997. A third NCAA top honoree, UNC’s Tyler Hansbrough, was the star attraction before over 10,000 people in 2009.

UNC star centers Brendan Haywood and Tyler Zeller and guard Shammond Williams; N.C. State’s C.J. Leslie and Clemson forward Brian Narcisse (briefly a Harlem Globetrotter) have played in this game. Duke participants include guards J.J. Redick, Trajon Langdon, DeMarcus Nelson and Seth Curry; and forwards Kyle Singler and and Christ School products Miles and Mason Plumlee. Most have recently shined in the NBA.

The squads nearly split over the years, with ACC seniors winning 13 times and Crossfire 12 including in a split of two games (with both squads topping 100 points each time) in ’09 before a packed crowd of 5,200 people.

This time the ACC roster is expected to feature guards Quinn Cook of Duke and Ralston Turner of N.C. State; Duke’s Sean Kelly; UNC’s Desmond Hubert, Sasha Seymore and Luke Davis of North Carolina; and Staats Battle and Desmond Lee of N.C. State. UNCA’s Corey Littlejohn and Jaleel Roberts will play with the ACC squad.

UNC senior Jackson Simmons, who starred for Smoky Mountain High, is on the ACC team. As Shepherd noted, Simmons “grew up watching this game” and now proudly plays in it.

Crossfire’s squad again sports Johnson, Shepherd and more former UNCA standouts in Matt Dickey and John Williams. Tim Lewis, who is 6-5, played for Montreat and pro in Europe.

Big 6-7 Sam Smithson is a West Henderson product, and one of his coach Rick Wood’s favorite success stories for perseverance. Smithson and Asheville native Willie Battle each played for Western Carolina University. Forward Jonathan Whitson of Pisgah High and Brevard College is on the team. His father David Whitson was recently a Henderson County assistant manager, for two years.

Shepherd even when reaching age 50 keeps up with players more than half his age; youths at the game have said this impresses them. Shepherd won the three-point shoot out half of the time. He once made 22 three-pointers in a minute. He sank 12 three-pointers in the 1996 Crossfire ACC All-Star Classic.

He graduated from Asheville High in 1982. He started for four seasons for UNCA. His cohort Johnson, also 6-foot-4, played forward for Enka, Montreat then Gardner-Webb.

Shepherd ran into the Tribune reporter the other day, when watching the NCAA tourney on a big screen in Asheville and rooting vibrantly for an underdog. He likes all four ACC schools in this state. He told of how he and his AHS teammate Robert “Buzz” Peterson both encountered Michael Jordan at a basketball camp. Peterson was the N.C. 1981 high school player of the year of all classifications.

Jordan was an unsung talent then. But Shepherd shook his head in disbelief at the raw talent, realizing a star was in the making. Peterson roomed with Jordan in Chapel Hill, won the 1982 national title together with UNC, was drafted in the NBA, coached Tennessee, and has recently worked for Jordan’s NBA Charlotte Bobcats.

Shepherd’s degree was in business management. He promptly went into sports ministry, preaching in 65 nations such as Cuba, Ukraine, Zimbabwe, Madagascar and Fiji Islands. He started with Memphis-based Spirit Express for five years, before co-founding sports evangelistic ministry Crossfire with Johnson in 1993.

Their idea was “let’s join up, and play around the world,” Shepherd recalled. They did, also visiting 45 states. They ministered at four Summer Olympics. They were featured on James and Betty Robison’s television how “Life Today,” viewed by 120 million families. Shepherd was on Pat Robertson’s “700 Club” on TV, 10 years ago.

The duo runs basketball camps, and visit schools and prisons. The main reward of Crossfire-ACC contests, of course, is helping people tune in more to Christ and some to turn their lives around in many ways. In one of his halftime gospel messages, Shepherd said “Jesus Christ wants to clean our hearts out. “He wants to give us hope, peace and victory.” He said he felt freed of drinking and “the pain of depression and anxiety … Jesus gave me the peace, security and fulfillment that money, success, alcohol, and premarital sex cannot bring.”

At halftime of the first Crossfire-ACC contest, in 1994, “what was so exciting was the fact that over 500 people made ‘professions of faith’ in Jesus Christ during the half, ‘scoring’ in a big way,” Shepherd recalled.

Johnson reasons people are extra receptive when elated, by seeing their ACC and local heroes up close. “Fans are excited. They’ve watched these guys on television.” He calls the halftime contest, stunts and message “the climax” and adds that “sports like music bridges a gap. Especially now with the economy having been bad, people get discouraged and depressed and feel challenged. This event brings people together.” He added that “when the Holy Spirit draws you — that’s the special moment.” He estimates 80,000 fans have seen these contests in Asheville.

Tickets are available at the UNCA Kimmel box office (258-7900), Leicester Carpet stores, All-Star Sports and Trophies, Showtime Sports and Trophies, and Arsenel in Asheville Mall. For more on Crossfire, call 255-9111 or check

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