Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul tells the same line to the current players participating in his grassroots basketball program as he did to the first group in 2009.
Although the Winston-Salem native and 12-time NBA All-Star guard encourages their hoop dreams, he always ends with this caveat: “You’re not taking my place.”
Paul says it with a serious tone, and it always elicits a few laughs. But in all honesty, he is preparing the players who come through the Team CP3 basketball program with the hopes that one day, when he retires of course, that someone will.
“I genuinely love these guys, man,” Paul said. “Think about it, 99 percent of them don’t make it to the NBA, but we’re still tight. We’ve still got a tight-knit family, and it’s something I take a lot of pride in.”
Paul has arguably been the most influential basketball player in the state of North Carolina for more than a decade — and he hasn’t played a home game in the state since leaving Wake Forest after his sophomore year in 2005.
Team CP3 has fielded teams that range in age from 10-17 and are sponsored by Nike. But it’s not just the traveling teams, Paul also has an annual academy for the top point guards in college to spend a week training in Winston-Salem. Stephen Curry was in the first group to participate before his final season at Davidson in 2008-09. CP3 also runs a middle school camp to develop younger players, which is how Columbia, South Carolina, native G.G. Jackson became involved with Team CP3. Those camps serve as a feeder to his teams.
“When we was growing up, it wasn’t pros around for kids to have access to,” Paul’s brother, C.J., told The News & Observer during a 2019 interview, adding that his younger brother was, “real active in trying to grow the game with these younger kids.”
Paul’s impact goes beyond putting players in the NBA — although his program has been successful at that, too. Duke’s Wendell Moore, a first-round pick by the Minnesota Timberwolves in June’s NBA draft, is the latest addition to the list of Team CP3 alumni to make it to the league.
Reggie Bullock, Theo Pinson, Coby White, Day’Ron Sharpe — all former North Carolina players — Harry Giles III (Duke) and Montrezl Harrell (Louisville) all came up through Team CP3 before their college stops, eventually playing in the NBA.
Creating a ‘gateway’
As happy as Paul is to see alumni from his basketball program reach the NBA, he also takes pride in the successes of the ones who didn’t make it that far. Sam Hunt played for Team CP3 before stops at North Carolina A&T and N.C. State. Hunt, who is currently an assistant men’s basketball coach at A&T, put Paul through a workout last month while he attended Peach Jam in North Augusta, S.C.
“Without this grassroots basketball, ain’t no telling what a lot of these kids would be doing — what me and my brother would have been doing,” Paul said. “So when I got the opportunity to have my own team and my parents part of the organization and my homies that I grew up with, I wanted to pour what I have into them and to try to get them the opportunity that I had.”
It’s important to Paul, because he never forgot what playing on a traveling team did for him, not just in terms of basketball, but his exposure to life outside of his neighborhood.
Paul said he was first exposed to AAU basketball when he was 9 and his brother, C.J., was 11 playing on a team coached by Andy Poplin. Paul was the ball boy, but said even then he realized the impact it had on their lives.
“It started with my parents, my dad spent his entire 401K for me and my brother to play travel basketball,” Paul said. “Everybody sort of has their thing, and basketball was a gateway for me to see the world to learn so much about life and experiences.”
‘Like a big family’
Paul didn’t just attach his name to a program to say that he sponsored one. Every summer, he carves out time from his schedule to show up to Peach Jam in person. He’s been on the sidelines. He’s been at games. He’s helped coach. He’s helped at workouts and, occasionally, even plays one-on-one with the kids on his teams.
“In AAU it’s hard to find consistency, and I couldn’t tell you how long CP3 has been going on, but as long as I remember, there’s been consistency where you see guys get better from the 15, to 16, to 17,” N.C. State coach Kevin Keatts said. “It’s been really consistent, and I think that’s why they’ve developed some really good players.”
Having tangible access to a player considered among the best point guards in NBA history, while he is still playing, has been invaluable to players like G.G. Jackson. He’ll likely add to the Team CP3 alums in the NBA next year after decommitting from UNC and reclassifying to the Class of 2022 to play at South Carolina.
“I feel like he’s one of the few NBA future Hall of Famers that will pick up the phone if you call,” said Jackson, who played on the CP3 17-and-under team this summer. “So I feel like it’s a huge blessing to play with his program and you definitely feel the culture that he was talking about. It’s literally like a big family.”
Paul’s parents, brother and cousin are involved, too, be it organizing and planning or coaching. They compete in Nike’s Elite Youth Basketball League (EYBL), which takes them to tournaments throughout the nation every summer. It’s part of the reason why a generation of players in North Carolina have grown up wanting to play for Team CP3.
“I don’t want to speak bad on any other program, but everybody used to always want to be just in Chris Paul’s program,” Poplin said. “There’s no under-the-table stuff with Chris Paul, for everybody in North Carolina especially, this is the place they’d want to be — on Nike in the EYBL and playing for Chris’ team.”
The CP3 17-and-under team lost its first two games in Peach Jam last month before Paul arrived in town. They didn’t lose another game while he was present, but the early losses kept them from advancing to the championship bracket of the tournament.
After their final game, in the basement of North Augusta’s Riverview Park Activities Center, Paul told the team they can always reach out to him if they have questions or need advice. It’s a similar speech he gives every year, by his own account, since he’s been attending at least one summer tournament the past 13 consecutive years.
“Ain’t nothing like it,” Paul said. “I look forward to this more than anything the whole year, just to be with them because there’s nothing like that time.”
And no one is going to take his place.