Vonteego Cummings grew up learning to play the game of basketball on a concrete slab in the Cherokee neighborhood of Thomson.
The 32-year-old Cummings returned to his childhood playground last Saturday to kick off the Vonteego Cummings First Annual Community Day. The event was attended by more than 150 people - many of them youth and teens - who celebrated the occasion with games, including shooting hoops and eating hamburgers, hot dogs, and enjoying cold drinks.
"This was their day - a day of celebrating with them and giving back a little of what this community has given so much to me through the years," said Cummings, a 1995 graduate of Thomson High School, where he was a star basketball player. After graduation, Cummings, the son of John David and Carri Mae Cummings, of Thomson, went on to become an outstanding basketball player at the University of Pittsburgh.
At Pitt, Cummings, who played point guard, averaged 17 points per game during his four-year career. He later was drafted into the NBA by the Golden State Warriors - a team he played for two years.
While with the Warriors, Cummings saw limited playing time and ended up averaging just eight points in the games he played. He later was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers where he stayed a season, becoming close friends with Allen Iverson. He ended up his career in the NBA with Cleveland, playing half a season.
Today, Cummings plays for the Israeli Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team in the European League. The team is the second-best in the European League.
He also has been working out a lot in the off-season practicing at Sweetwater Gym near Thomson.
"It feels good to be home," said Cummings. "Anybody that knows me knows that I'm very big on family and friends."
Evelyn Hatcher, of Thomson, was thrilled to see Cummings at the Cherokee Park named after him.
"This young man is an outstanding young man," said Mrs. Hatcher. "He's very influential to our youth; they look up to him. He's also very highly admired by our black males throughout McDuffie County. I'm very proud of him. He has made all of us who know him very proud."
During the one-on-one interview, Cummings talked a little about his days of playing with another former Thomson High basketball great - Antron Lee, who now plays basketball in Puerto Rico.
"Antron still plays well," said Cummings.
One of Cummings' fondest memories was a time when he and Lee were seen playing basketball at the Cherokee neighborhood park by Thomson High School Head Coach Michael Thomas.
"He had told us he didn't want us playing basketball anywhere else because we might get injured, but we did it anyway," admitted Cummings.
On the same day the two decided to do what their coach had requested they not do, Coach Thomas just happened to have seen them on the outdoor basketball court.
"We took off running when we saw him," said Cummings. "But he already knew that it was us."Cummings explained that Coach Thomas made him and Lee pay for what they did the next day at basketball practice.
Last Saturday, Coach Thomas stopped by Cherokee Park to speak to his former star player.
"We still share a close relationship," said Cummings. "If it hadn't been for Coach Thomas making me get my grades and telling me to stay out of trouble, I wouldn't be where I am today. We have a father-son type relationship."