Last week, the Hurricanes lost in the ACC Tournament semifinals to Virginia in Washington, D.C. The Verizon Center was packed with fans, but it was dominated with Cavaliers supporters, as Miami’s fan base had a very sparse showing. However, one revered Canes fan was in attendance. Former Hurricane great John Salmons was celebrated as a 2016 ACC Legend during the tournament.
Salmons was one of the Canes’ starting guards from 1998-2002. Not only is Salmons considered one of the most versatile players in Miami basketball history, averaging 10.4 points and 5.5 rebounds per game over his four seasons with the Canes, but he also had a successful, long-lasting NBA career.
Salmons, a Philadelphia native, had an immediate impact on the 1998-99 season, as he started 12 games for the Canes, who went 23-7 and were a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament that year. Salmons provided a youthful punch to a veteran group.
“It felt like home. It was a great fit. I feel like it was where God wanted me to be,” Salmons said. “When I got there, it was guys like Vernon Jennings, Mario Bland who took me under their wings and showed me the ropes. They were good teammates, good guys, so I wanted to go down there and be teammates with them.”
While in Miami, Salmons’ greatest attribute was his versatility. The 6-foot-7 guard could shoot from deep and slash into the paint with ease, shooting more than 46 percent from the field throughout his Canes career. But he was also regarded as one of the top defenders in the conference.
Salmons’ versatility stretched beyond his stat line, as he was also a reliable player. He started 107 consecutive games for the Canes over his four-year career.
“I never really got hurt. I played through sickness a couple times, but I never got hurt to the point where I had to sit out,” Salmons said.
His durability extended from his collegiate career into his professional career.
“I think God is good. He gave me the ability to stay injury-free. Even in the NBA, I never really had a major injury that kept me out for a long time,” Salmons said.
After leaving the Canes, Salmons headed to the NBA draft. He was drafted by the San Antonio Spurs in the first round, but following a slew of draft trades, the first NBA team Salmons ever represented on the court was his hometown Philadelphia 76ers. Salmons spent his first four seasons with Sixers, but playing in the city where he grew up was both a blessing and curse.
“It was pros and cons. Pro because my family, my friends [were] all there, and we all got to enjoy that experience together, got to see me play on my home court,” he said. “At the same time, that was a pro and a con really. Everybody is right there; it can be distracting.”
As Salmons entered the middle part of his professional career heading into the 2008-09 season, he began to see an increase in his points per game, averaging more than 18 per game that season. Salmons credited much of his increased success to more playing time.
“I felt, like, always prepared for every season the same. It was just those years I got more opportunities,” Salmons said.
Salmons was a top defender on many of the teams he played for, so he was often tasked with guarding some of the NBA’s premier scorers.
“The guys who were the hardest to guard were [Kevin] Durant, Melo [Carmelo Anthony] and [Dwyane] Wade,” Salmons said.
Salmons would put in extra pre-game prep when one of those elite scorers was on the docket. He would watch supplementary films and read analytical reports to determine his opponent’s tendencies.
One year removed from his final NBA season, Salmons is still searching for what lies in his future.
“It’s my first year out, so I’m in that transition period. I’m trying to figure things out. Trying to see what I can do business-wise,” Salmons said.
Although his professional future is uncertain, it remains clear that religion is an important part of Salmons’ life.
“Religion is big part of my life. I wear it on my sleeve. It is who I am,” Salmons said.