Boban at Boys and Girls Club

Boban Marjanović visits a Boys and Girls Club to help teach skills at a Jr. NBA Clinic.

MESQUITE — When Dallas Mavericks center Boban Marjanovic walked through the doors of the Mesquite Boys and Girls Club on Monday afternoon, the look on the face of 13-year old Marcus Merrill told the whole story.

“I was shocked,” Merrill said. “I didn’t know he was coming.”

In a well-orchestrated move by Mavs officials, none of the kids knew Marjanovic was going to be at the boys and girls club. However, Marjanovic was on hand as the Mavs’ community relations team and Mavs Basketball Academy hosted a basketball camp in conjunction with the Jr. NBA Clinic.

More than 50 kids ages 6-15 were on hand to greet Marjanovic, who had as much fun as the kids while going through calisthenics and several basketball drills.

“I came here today for the Jr. NBA Clinic and I’ve had so much fun,” Marjanovic said. “I brought my son (8-year old Vuk) here to enjoy and see how other kids are doing, and I support them because I started playing basketball when I watched the guys on TV.

“I came here so they can see how a real basketball player looks. I’m one of those guys who did something with their life – play in the NBA, play basketball games, play professional – and I came here to show them that.”

The way Marjanovic described it, basketball is a bridge that can solve many of life’s problems. It’s a message he conveyed to the kids on Monday.

“When I started to play I wanted to be one of the guys who shared basketball with the world and around the city,” Marjanovic said. “I want basketball to improve because it’s my favorite sport.

“That’s why I bring my son so he can learn something about basketball, but it’s not just about basketball. It’s more like friendship and social life, and they can talk to each other, they can have fun together playing ball – not just playing video games and being in front of a computer, an Ipad or a cell phone.”

Edward Blackwell, the Mesquite branch manager of the Greater Dallas Boys and Girls Club, acknowledged that the appearance by Marjanovic was just what the young kids needed.

“This is truly going to inspire the kids to do better,” Blackwell said. “A lot of our kids are preparing for their first basketball game this weekend, so this is additional training. But at the same time it lets them know, ‘I can do this as well, I can reach my goals.’ “

The fact that Marjanovic spoke and played basketball with the kids on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day resonated with Blackwell.

“I think for them it’s important being exposed to (seeing a professional athlete) early, because everybody doesn’t have this opportunity,” Blackwell said. “So to be able to have this Mavericks’ camp here on Martin Luther King’s holiday, it means a lot.

“We’ve got our whole basketball team out here, plus some additional members of the club. And this is going to be truly inspirational to them.”

Marjanovic’s appearance definitely inspired 12-year old Trinity Henderson.

“It’s a privilege, because we work so hard out here and we deserve to have a special guest to come visit us,” Henderson said. “It shows that hard work always pays off.”

Marjanovic even sent the kids through a drill where he first let them show off their offensive skills, then he showed off his defensive skills. That meant a whole lot of kids got their shots rejected by Marjanovic.

“I want to play defense and block some shots, but the kids at this age they sometimes say, ‘Why he block me, why he block me?, ’ “ Marjanovic said, while smiling. “I try to let everybody score one shot, then one guy I blocked him and I showed him what the difference is and what he can do better.”

This was all a full-blown strategic plan by Marjanovic to facilitate helping the kids advance their basketball skills.

“Not everybody can be like LeBron James, Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis,” Marjanovic said. “The first thing is to enjoy this game, and every time when they come, they come with a smile on their face.

“This is so important to find friends, to enjoy basketball and to listen to the coach. This is how I developed my social life – going to games, talking to my friends and becoming a better man.”

The kids at the boys and girls club marveled at Marjanovic’s 7-4, 290-pound frame. To them, it was as if he was a giant from another planet.

“He’s big, but when you get to know him he’s fun,” Merrill said. “And he’s got some moves, too, for a big guy. He shows that anybody can get along no matter how you are, what size you are, or race.”

Henderson was grateful Marjanovic took time from his busy schedule to share some of life’s lessons. She said: “I would like to say thank you for coming and for spending time, and just keep on working hard.”

Blackwell believes the boys and girls club has not only assembled its share of athletes who may one day develop into a Luka Doncic or a Brittney Griner, but. . .

“We have some future leaders and presidents and everything at a boys and girls club,” Blackwell said. “It’s almost like they’re going to reach their dreams like Martin Luther King had his dream.”

A self-proclaimed kid at heart, Marjanovic said he reached his goal of making sure everyone had a grand time on Monday.

“I think like a kid, and they are in my heart,” Marjanovic said. “I’m enjoying life and I’m basically a kid.

“When you see the smile on their face that means I did a great job, because they want to see me, they want to follow me. And the kids, when they grow up, somebody will be a figure they want to be like, and I think that’s important.”

Twitter: @DwainPrice

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