Junious Smith III: My Matchbox memories
TRENTON — My first Eastern North Carolina sports memory didn’t come from Kinston.
Although I had faint memories of Jerry Stackhouse terrorizing opponents at UNC as a kid, I didn’t learn about the city until another Carolina wing — Reggie Bullock — started making his presence felt in 2010.
Three years later, I would cover Kinston’s Eastern Regional blowout of Fairmont in the Crown Arena in Fayetteville when a team led by Joshua Dawson, Denzel Keyes and a 6-foot, 7-inch, 140-pound sophomore named Brandon Ingram would flex its dominance on the way to the second of four straight state titles. A few months later, I was employed here, fully immersing self in the area.
I learned about The Matchbox in 2007.
Jones Senior had a steady stream of former students making their way to Fayetteville State and as fate would have it, my best friend went there: Demaris Hargett. “Mars” played on the team for three years and waxed poetically about the environment and ambiance. The way he described The Matchbox made me want to take a trip to Trenton, but I never stepped foot in there until 2015, when I became a sports editor.
My first time stepping into The Matchbox came when I was working on a basketball preview story for Jones Senior. The Trojans were 4-20 in the 2014-15 season, but under new coach Tod Morgan and a phenomenal group — including the Brooks brothers (Khadre, Malik and Zach), Raekwon Hatchell and Janari Hill — the team went 19-9.
The new gym started filling up too, and I would see members of the Bowtie Committee in their overalls slapping the floor before tipoff, getting the players hype. It was great, but it wasn’t in the old gym.
Friday, my hope is the environment of The Matchbox fulfills and exceeds expectations. There will be a “grand closing” at 6 p.m. where players can sign when they arrive and fans can enjoy concessions. All proceeds will go to Jones Senior athletics, and it’ll be a chance to see numerous legends.
For one night, the opportunity to turn the clock back and reminisce on the glory days is available, and I’m here for it. I’ve covered practices there, donated blood there, but have never seen a true game there. That will change in the final night.
One of my recent memories of The Matchbox occurred Tuesday, when I actually put up a few shots while preparing for a couple of interviews. It seemed like with every shot I made, a legend or story would pop up from years past and it felt like 2007 all over again, learning about Mars’ background, not knowing I’d be able to cover the town. The last shot I took was on the period of the “Jones Sr.” sign, about 3 feet beyond the arc. Fittingly, it swished through.
The end of an era, but one that shall not be forgotten.