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Undefeated Athlete of the Week

Chris Paul donates $2.5 million to Wake Forest’s basketball program, vows, ‘This is home for me’

Brave, fearless and all agents of change, athletes will be recognized every week for using their platform for the greater good

While his newest teammate was being fitted for his Houston Rockets jersey, Chris Paul was in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, at the place that made him the man and the player he’s become, living his absolute best life.

Paul, who dished out 11.9 assists per game last season and will have high-volume scorer Carmelo Anthony as a new go-to option, saw one of his best dimes come to fruition Aug. 7 at the announcement of his pledge to give $2.5 million to Wake Forest’s basketball program.

Speaking at his foundation’s golf tournament fundraiser, Paul, the former Demon Deacon and West Forsyth High School star, was all smiles while he took in the vibe of his familiar surroundings.

“This is home for me,” said the 33-year-old, who, in two seasons at Wake, led the program to a 48-16 record and a top-10 ranking for the entire 2004-05 season.

Speaking to the Winston-Salem Journal, Paul channeled his inner Drake: “I think Drake said it best in a verse; he said, ‘Hardly home but always reppin’.”

Paul’s donation will be dedicated exclusively to the school’s basketball program and will be used to transform the men’s and women’s basketball clubhouses next to the Shah Basketball Complex, which is under construction and expected to be finished next year.

“The locker room transformation project at Wake Forest inspired me,” Paul told The Undefeated’s Marc J. Spears on Monday. “It is so meaningful to invest in the space where relationships are built. Forming lifelong friendships with your teammates is one of the most rewarding aspects of sports, and giving back has always been important to my family and me. And Wake Forest is part of my family.”

The enhancements will be seen with expanded locker rooms, nutrition resources and treatment areas.

“It will be a bonding place; it will be a nutrition opportunity,” athletic director Ron Wellman said. “All of the resources that you want your basketball players and all of your athletes to have will be available to those players because of Chris’ generosity and what we will build as a result of his pledge to our basketball program.”

Paul’s donation is reportedly the largest donation by a former Wake Forest basketball player and also the largest of any alumnus under age 35.

Anthony, Paul’s new teammate, did something similar in 2009 when he donated $3 million to kick-start a fundraising campaign for a new basketball practice facility at Syracuse, which then-19-year-old Anthony led to its only NCAA men’s basketball championship in 2003. Two years after Anthony’s donation, the Brooklyn, New York-born, Baltimore-raised star was on hand for the ribbon-cutting at the Carmelo K. Anthony Basketball Center.

Similarly, Wake Forest’s men’s basketball locker room will be called the Chris Paul Locker Room.

“Some people who go away to college, or maybe do something, somewhere where they’re never going to visit,” said Paul, whose Rockets were second in the league last season in points per game at 112.4. “But this is home. This is home and always will be, and I think about how much, you know, was done for me and for my family.

“And I also have a scholarship that’s endowed, that goes to Wake year in and year out, so why not add this piece?” added Paul, this week’s Undefeated Athlete of the Week.

Giving back, or even speaking out, is nothing new for Paul. The nine-time NBA All-Star stood shoulder to shoulder with LeBron James, Anthony and Dwyane Wade at The ESPYS in 2016, creating an opening for athletes to do more with their voices and their platforms.

Derrick Rose, the league’s 2011 MVP, is another example. The Minnesota Timberwolves point guard announced his Rose Scholars program on Aug. 7, which will award $200,000 in scholarship money to one qualified high school student and $20,000 each to two runners-up. Rose’s announcement came days after James’ school for at-risk kids in his hometown of Akron, Ohio, made national headlines.

Wrote Rose: “I know we can all identify a moment where our lives changed. A new path opened up to us that was not previously available. This new path allowed us to make different decisions and start to imagine new possibilities. This is exactly what the Rose Scholars program is meant to achieve in each and every one of you that applies.”

Paul, whose NBA career has spanned three teams and countless lobs, spoke about the brotherhood aspect of collegiate life and how friendships built there often last a lifetime.

“The NBA, when practice is over, guess what? Everybody leaves. Gone,” Paul said. “When you’re in college, you’re really part of a brotherhood. When I played on the basketball team, you really don’t have time to pledge a fraternity and all that stuff. We are our own fraternity, and that locker room is our house, our fraternity house.”

Mark W. Wright is a Charlotte-based sports journalist and documentarian.