Salah Mejri shares stories, swats shots at Jr. NBA clinic

Salah Mejri plays basketball with the kind of intense, youthful passion you wouldn’t expect from a 30-year-old, and that isn’t a bad thing. His fire gives him confidence and the self-belief it takes to be the first player from Tunisia to play in the NBA. There was barely any organized basketball in his country as he grew up, which meant his first exposure to the game came when he was a teenager — already pushing seven feet — and without resources or fanfare.

That’s changed now, though, in part because of his success at the NBA and international level. Mejri has taken Tunisia farther in international competition than the country has ever been, and between his time with the Mavericks and also Spanish superclub Real Madrid, he’s become one of the most successful players ever from North Africa.

His personal achievements and fame have certainly catalyzed the growth of the game in that region of the world. This summer, he ran three camps with the NBA and Jr. NBA in Tunisia. He participated in Basketball Without Borders in Angola and plans to do the same next summer in South Africa. He wants to see the sport’s popularity continue to increase, and he wants to have a lot to do with it. His passion for the game doesn’t just end on the floor.

That natural enthusiasm made him a good fit for the Mavs’ Jr. NBA clinic earlier this week, held on the main floor at American Airlines Center. Fifty elementary and middle schoolers from the City of Dallas Parks and Recreation, under the guidance of Mejri and coaches from the Mavs Basketball Academy, ran through dribbling and shooting drills, played knockout, and listened to Mejri share his story of how he made it in the sport despite the limited resources available for up-and-comers in his native Tunisia. NBA players, for example, never visited.

“When I was that age I was playing soccer, and whenever I’d see a player on the TV, I’m already happy,” he said. “So I imagine if I saw them in front of me, I might pass out, I don’t know. (The kids are) very lucky to have an NBA player playing with them, being around them. It’s very important.”

The kids were understandably in awe of Mejri. He’s an NBA player, which is usually good enough to widen the eyes of any youngster. But on top of that he’s 7-foot-2, which makes his larger-than-life status grow even taller. His message to the kids, several of whom hope to play competitive basketball in the future: Anything is possible, so long as you put in the work.

“I’m lucky to be playing basketball, but I’m giving almost all my time to basketball,” he told them. “Playing, working out, exercising. To dedicate all that time to something, it’s really hard. But if you’re passionate about it, it’s a sacrifice you need to make.”

Mejri’s late start in the sport only came because his father helped to run a local club. He played alongside his dad, uncle, and brothers in what turned out to be quite the family affair. He also eventually played for his school’s team, where to say he dominated would be an understatement. The second-year Mav would soon shift the majority of his time and focus to basketball, a wager which paid off: Offers came from Europe, and Mejri launched a pro career. Before that, however, he was studying to be an engineer — and without the success he enjoyed at his school, those offers from Europe might not have come.

“If I wasn’t in school, they would never have seen me,” he said, urging the kids to stick with their studies. “So if I wasn’t in school, there’d be no basketball, no NBA, nothing.”

Then the games began, and Mejri joined the kids for a few games of knockout. The 7-foot-2 center towered over his competition, and any time he’d come close to losing — or, maybe, when he was just a bit bored — he’d swat the kid’s shot into the third row, then he’d shrug his shoulders or laugh with the recipient of his rejection. But Mejri did fall victim in two of the games.

“I cheated,” he admitted. “I blocked their shots, but I still lost. They have a lot of energy and they are excited to play, so that’s why they beat me.”

Intellectual capability aside, I think Mejri might have seen some of himself in the kids. Several teammates, most notably Dirk Nowitzki and Justin Anderson, have positive attitudes and seem to love the game. But Mejri in particular seems to be enjoying life in general, including but not limited to basketball; he’s just happy to be here, happy to have made it, and happy to have the chance to pursue his passion day in and day out. He laughs more than anyone in the locker room and, like Nowitzki, Mejri’s trash talk is more likely to make an opponent laugh than provoke anger. This is a 30-year-old man who has fun for a living, and for an afternoon he shared that unadulterated joy with 50 kids one-third his age and height.

There are many lessons to be learned from NBA players and coaches, but perhaps the most valuable is not only to enjoy what you’re doing, but to celebrate the fact that you have the chance to do it to begin with.

Mavs search for consistency with their starters, second unit as preseason nears an end

DALLAS — It was a tale of two halves for the Dallas Mavericks during their second-to-last preseason outing Wednesday night against Houston, falling to a 106-91 defeat in front of their hometown fans.

Sliding into a double-digit hole quickly after the opening tipoff Wednesday against the rival Rockets, the Mavericks’ starters surrendered a 21-4 run at the beginning of the game in just their second outing together this preseason. The Mavericks (2-4) then inched their way back into the game behind the play of their reserves, pulling to within one before looking up to a 47-38 deficit entering into the halftime intermission.

The Dallas starters returned to the court from there, finding some success in the third quarter before seeing the Rockets separate themselves again in the final period against Dallas’ second unit. Now, with just one more exhibition test remaining before the regular season gets underway, the Mavs hope to put together a more complete performance Friday night in Denver.

“Our starters have to develop an attitude to be effective,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle confessed after Wednesday’s loss. “It can’t be something where we ease into games. … We’ve just got to do better, and we’ve got a long way to go. We’re probably not as far away as it feels right now, but we’ve got work to do. Those guys have to be committed to each other and to hard play. It’s as simple as that.

“[The reserves] were good in the first half and lousy in the second half,” the coach added. “They helped us make up a huge deficit in the first half and got it to within one, I believe. In the second half, we were very poor on defense with that group. The ground that we made up after halftime was lost exponentially and immediately. We’re going to have to figure some things out here. It’s less about strategic things and more about a collective will that we have to play with, and we’re not doing it.”

The Rockets held a nine-point advantage through two quarters despite being outshot by the Mavericks in the first half, 36.6 percent to 32.6 percent. Houston also held a 29-24 rebounding edge at the half while connecting on 9 of 25 from behind the three-point arc to build its lead.

However, led by swingman Wesley Matthews and 10 of his team-high 15 points in the third period, the Mavs began to find some mojo in the early stage of the second half. And according to the versatile Matthews, that brief success can be credited to the Mavericks’ commitment at the defensive end of the floor.

“We didn’t get many stops,” Matthews admitted while critiquing Dallas’ play in the first half. “We didn’t get many stops, and this is the second time that the starting unit has played together in a real live-game situation. But we’re not going to put it on that. We’ve got to come out with a defensive mindset. You know, we’ve got different personnel and different pieces on the offensive end, but we can’t focus on the offensive end. We’ve got to focus on the defensive end. It’s easier to play offense when you’re not taking the ball out of the net, and we were doing that too much in the first half and the first quarter.”

The same could be said for the play of the Mavs’ bench, second-year standout Justin Anderson says, after inconsistent play from the reserves in the second half.

Playing without veteran guard J.J. Barea (left elbow sprain) and backup big man Quincy Acy (right foot sprain), the Mavericks drew energy from their reserves after their sluggish start behind Anderson’s eight points off the bench in the opening quarter. However, despite finishing the night with a 43-41 edge in bench scoring over the Rockets’ reserves, Anderson and the second unit weren’t able to sustain that success for the duration of the game. The Mavs now hope to collectively come together during their final exhibition test, looking to exert their will against the Nuggets (3-4) before opening the regular season next Wednesday in Indiana.

“I like that we’re getting battle tested right now. We still haven’t had our main guys play extensive minutes,” Anderson explained. “This is good for us, and it’s good for a lot of people. We were getting our (tails) kicked a little bit in the first half, and we responded really well. It was good to get out there with the second unit and do our job. We still had some of our mishaps and we weren’t as good in the second half, but we’ll be better. I think this is a good time for this to happen. We struggled a little bit, but we’ll learn from it and we’ll move on.”

Note: The Mavericks will now conclude the preseason on the road Friday night against the Denver Nuggets. The game will tip off at 8 p.m. CT, airing locally on Fox Sports Southwest and 103.3 FM ESPN.

The Mavs return to American Airlines Center for the home opener on Oct. 28, hosting the Houston Rockets. The game will tip off at 7:30 p.m. CT, airing locally on Fox Sports Southwest and 103.3 FM ESPN. Tickets are still available and can be purchased by visiting, or by calling (214) 747-MAVS.

Injury updates:

Quincy Acy (right foot sprain) — out

J.J. Barea (left elbow sprain) — out

Preseason 2016 Game 6: Mavs vs. Rockets

Highlights: Mavs vs. Rockets

Wesley Matthews led the Mavs with 15 points and Dirk added 12 in Wednesday's preseason game against Houston.

Rick Carlisle voted league’s best at making in-game adjustments

A coach is a motivator, but also a thinker. And no one in the NBA — if you ask the GMs, that is — plans, executes, and shifts strategy better than Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle.

The franchise’s all-time wins leader was voted the head coach who makes the best in-game adjustments in’s annual GM survey, earning 41.4 percent of the vote, and edging San Antonio boss Gregg Popovich (31.0 percent) and Boston’s Brad Stevens (13.8 percent). He was also one of six to receive votes for the head coach who runs the best offense, finishing tied for third with new Houston playcaller Mike D’Antoni.

If there’s anything we’ve learned from watching Carlisle work over the years, it’s that he’s willing to do whatever it takes to win a game, even if it means benching stars or calling on the deepest reserve to make an impact. His mantra of “stay ready” has motivated backup players to work hard no matter the playing time he’s been receiving, because he could always get a chance in the next game, depending on the circumstances. For example, Salah Mejri had barely played an NBA minute last season before entering late in the game at home against Oklahoma City, but he went on a shot-blocking rampage and led a charge to help the Mavericks turn a double-digit deficit into a one-shot game.

Carlisle also finished second in the best head coach in the NBA category, with Popovich receiving 83.3 percent of the vote. Carlisle earned 13.3 percent. The Mavs’ head caoch had finished second to Popovich in the in-game adjustments category every year since 2011.

Mavs names pop up elsewhere in the survey. After being named the league’s top international player every year but two since 2004, Dirk Nowitzki (22.4 percent of the votes) was surprisingly voted third-best behind Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo (27.6 percent), a first-time winner, and Memphis’s Marc Gasol (24.1 percent). Nowitzki finished second to Gasol in voting last season, but the Spanish center suffered a significant injury which prematurely ended a terrific season. Nowitzki, meanwhile, averaged a team-high 18.3 points to go along with 6.5 rebounds per game, one of the best seasons by any player his age in NBA history.

Antetokounmpo, also known as “The Greek Freak,” is still just 21 years old, but GMs and fans alike are captivated by his athleticism and potential. At nearly seven feet tall, Antetokounmpo began playing point guard for the Bucks toward the end of last season and could continue those duties in 2016-17. He averaged 16.9 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game for Milwaukee. All that’s missing from his arsenal is a reliable 3-point shot; he’s just 28.0 percent from beyond the arc in his career.

Fellow international player Andrew Bogut appeared on the list, but in a different category: most underrated player acquisition. He received 10.3 percent of the vote, finishing third behind George Hill to Utah (24.1 percent) and Jeff Teague to Indiana (13.8 percent). That pair finishing 1-2 in the voting is interesting because they were essentially traded for each other in a three-team deal involving Teague’s former team, the Atlanta Hawks.

Bogut is considered a top-flight interior defender and a very good defensive rebounder, and his passing skills have already dazzled Mavs fans just a couple weeks into preseason. The man he replaced at center, Zaza Pachulia, also received votes in the underrated acquisition department, as he’s now in Golden State with Bogut’s former team.

Mavs hope to narrow down rotation during final two preseason games

DALLAS — Although Friday’s 112-107 loss at Phoenix was just the first time the Dallas Mavericks’ five starters stepped on the floor together this preseason, the team believes it can still have its top contributors ready for the upcoming season with extended minutes during the final two exhibition contests.

Clocking exactly 19 minutes and 38 seconds together during Friday’s loss, point guard Deron Williams, swingman Wesley Matthews, versatile forward Harrison Barnes, 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki and center Andrew Bogut saw their first game action together. The starting five also showed its unfamiliarity with each other in the opening quarter of that game, combining to committing six of the team’s eight turnovers during the period. However, with opportunities for the starters to make amends for their lackluster play Wednesday night at home against Houston and Friday on the road versus Denver, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle says the group will see plenty of time together during the final two preseason outings as he begins to examine his regular-season rotation.

“Well, we’ve just got to play better, for one thing. We’ve been inconsistent. You know, our starters need to keep playing together, develop chemistry and a collective force to play with,” Carlisle explained following the team’s Monday practice.

He added: “We want to be healthy Opening Night, and we want to have a pretty good idea what our rotation is going to be. The next couple of games is going to be key for that.”

All told, the Mavericks’ starters combined to shoot 16 of 38 from the field against the Suns, committing 10 of the team’s 18 turnovers. Much of those offensive miscues came from a lack of familiarity, according to Bogut, as the unit works in two newcomers from a season ago. Now, with two exhibition matchups remaining before games begin to count in the standings, the new-look Mavs will try to utilize their experience and veteran leadership in order to jell together on the court.

“It’s a lot of guys that know how to play. It’s a lot of guys that have been in winning situations, so we have no excuse,” Bogut proclaimed. “We know what it takes, and this is a locker room that has a lot of pride. I think it will help us in the long run. We need as much time under our belt as we can get, just to get a rhythm and learn how to play together. A lot of us haven’t played with each other before, and we’ve just got to get our rotations down. I mean, it obviously puts pressure on coach [Carlisle] as well, ’cause he’s got to figure out who’s playing the bulk of the minutes, who are guys I can throw in every now and then, substitution patterns and all of that, so that’s what these preseason games are for.”

Playing 10 players in the first half of Friday’s contest, Carlisle may have already began trimming his rotation in anticipation for the regular-season opener on Oct. 26 at Indiana. That said, the Mavs were also playing without veteran reserve guard J.J. Barea (rest) and big man Quincy Acy (right foot injury), who both figure to be in the rotation when the upcoming season gets underway.

Meanwhile, the Mavericks’ roster currently sits at 20 after waiving big man Jameel Warney on Sunday and signing free-agent center Jaleel Cousins just 24 hours later. Still, despite needing to trim the roster down to at least 15 by Oct. 24, Carlisle says he will continue to focus on getting his top rotation players more minutes together on the court against a Houston team the Mavs will see four times during the regular season and twice within the first three games.

“The priority is the guys that are going to be the rotation guys,” Carlisle said. “The end of the roster, you know, we’ll figure that out. That’s not going to be a problem. We’ve just got to keep getting better each day. We had a very competitive day (Monday), which was good. And Houston presents some real tough challenges on defense, so we’ve got to get ramped up for that, ’cause we play them a couple of times early in the year.”

Note: The Mavericks will now home to host the Houston Rockets at American Airlines Center on Wednesday night. The game will tip off at 7:30 p.m. CT, airing locally on TXA 21 and 103.3 FM ESPN. Tickets are still available and can be purchased by visiting, or by calling (214) 747-MAVS.

Injury updates:

Quincy Acy (right foot injury) — out

Mavericks sign free agent center Jaleel Cousins

DALLAS—The Dallas Mavericks announced today that they have signed free agent center Jaleel Cousins. Per team policy, terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Cousins (6-11, 255) went undrafted in the 2016 NBA Draft after averaging 8.5 points, 7.9 rebounds, 1.6 blocks and 25.0 minutes per contest while appearing in all 33 games his senior season at South Florida. Prior to his transfer to South Florida, he spent one season at Navarro College in Corsicana, Texas.

Cousins played in all five games for the Mavericks at the 2016 Orlando Pro Summer League. He averaged 5.3 points and 3.0 rebounds in 14.1 minutes per contest.

A native of Mobile, Ala., Cousins is the brother of DeMarcus, two-time NBA All-Star of the Sacramento Kings. He will wear number 32 for the Mavericks.

Mavs’ starters expect to learn from 1st exhibition outing together

DALLAS — Although it came in a losing effort following a 112-107 defeat Friday night in Phoenix, the Dallas Mavericks got their first look at the team’s projected starting lineup while dropping to 2-3 in preseason play.

Rolling out a lineup of point guard Deron Williams, swingman Wesley Matthews, forward Harrison Barnes, 13-time All-Star Dirk Nowitzki and center Andrew Bogut, the Mavericks took the floor with their starting unit intact for the first time this preseason. However, while still trying to integrate newcomers like Barnes and Bogut, the Mavs admittedly got off to a sluggish start by committing eight turnovers in the opening quarter. The Mavericks then trailed by as many as 11 before eventually falling to the young and athletic Suns on the road. Now, before facing a high-scoring Houston Rockets team on Wednesday that they’ll see four times during the regular season and twice during the first three games, the Mavs hope to get more from the starters in order to even their exhibition record.

“Well, we didn’t play well,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle confessed following the team’s Sunday practice. “We certainly had some things to look at and to work on, and we did. I thought we had a good day of practice. We’ve got two more (preseason games), and we’ve got a team coming in here that’s leading the league in scoring. We’ve had some problems with transition defense the last game or two, and Houston is going to test your transition defense like no other team, so it’s going to be a good challenge for us. We’ve got a lot of things to do in the next two days leading up to the game.”

Playing the entire first unit together for just less than 20 minutes during Friday’s loss, the Mavericks finished the game outshooting the Suns through four quarters, 42.9 percent to 40.4 percent. The Mavs also held a 56-46 rebounding advantage by the end of the night, but they couldn’t overcome the 21 Phoenix points scored off of 18 Dallas turnovers. And after allowing the Suns to score 22 fast-break points, the Mavericks will try to make the proper adjustments against a Houston team that’s averaging 125 points per game through its first five preseason contests.

The Southwest Division rival Rockets are 4-1 so far in the preseason, suffering their first defeat at home Saturday against Memphis in a 134-125 double-overtime thriller. That said, the Mavericks know they’ll be challenged Wednesday night, looking for a much better showing in front of their hometown fans. The Mavs now hope to continue to make strides as the regular season rapidly approaches, continuing the jelling process with their five starters.

“You know, it’s all a process,” Williams explained after scoring a team-high 17 points on 6-of-11 shooting during Friday’s loss. “It’s more about getting comfortable with everybody out here. Last game was the first time the starters all played together, so we’re still getting acclimated to each other. … Like I said, it’s all a process of learning guys’ tendencies and where they like the ball. The more you play with guys, the more comfortable you are with them and with the system.”

“I mean, there’s going to be some challenges here and there that we’ve got to work through,” Nowitzki added. “I don’t think we’re in the shape we need to be in yet. We need to be better in transition defense. Obviously, we’re not the quickest team, and we know that. We’ve got to use our brains, take good shots and have good floor balance coming back, but we’re going to be challenged in some areas and we’ve got to play hard through it. You know, there’ll be some baskets scored in transition. We’ve just got to get it out, make a smart play and make them pay at the other end, especially if guys go with a lot of small ball against us. You know, with Wes at the two, he’s a big two. D-Will is a big one and Harrison has got matchups at the three, so we’re a pretty big team. We’ve got to take advantage of that.”

Note: The Mavericks will now home to host the Houston Rockets at American Airlines Center on Wednesday night. The game will tip off at 7:30 p.m. CT, airing locally on TXA 21 and 103.3 FM ESPN. Tickets are still available and can be purchased by visiting, or by calling (214) 747-MAVS.

Injury updates:

Quincy Acy (right foot injury) — out