Throughout the preseason we’ve seen the youngest Mavericks get plenty of run on the floor at the American Airlines Center — guys like Jeremy Evans, Justin Anderson, and John Jenkins. On Tuesday, however, 42 players took the court and all but one was younger than the springy 6-foot-9 Evans.
That’s because he and Devin Harris teamed up with 40 middle school students from Dallas’ Uplift Peak Preparatory for a Jr. NBA clinic as part of the inaugural Jr. NBA Week, an effort by the program to expand its reach nationwide. The organization teaches the fundamental skills as well as the core values of the game at the grassroots level in an effort to help grow and improve the youth basketball experience for players, coaches, and parents. The program is for boy and girls ages 6-14, and the goal is to reach 5 million kids with clinics, skills challenges, and regional tournaments.
The clinic kicked off on the main court at the AAC with Director of Camps & Community Basketball Greg Nared and Camps and Community Basketball Manager Ben Hunt introducing the players and then running the kids through some stretching, ball-handling drills — some of which got pretty elaborate, including laying flat on the ground and trying to keep it bouncing — and shooting exercises.
All the while, Harris and Evans joined in. Harris, in particular, said that his experience working with NBA players when he was younger has made him want to pay it forward to students today.
“I’ve been to a bunch of camps and met a couple NBA players earlier in my career, and it did wonders for my confidence and excitement,” he said. “So I just couldn’t imagine what it’s like for little kids, so I try to give them that. I try to give them something they can hold onto and something they can remember.”
Evans added: “I just always think back when I was a kid, how I would want an NBA player to act with me if I was to come to one of these events. Just being like a big brother and make you feel like you’re somebody out there.”
Once each kid had a chance to get some jumpers up, it was time for knockout, a staple at every basketball camp. Harris and Evans made it a point to stand near each other in line, and once it got down to the final four players, Harris turned up the heat on his Mavs teammate. Evans missed his first shot from the three-point line and quickly chased the ball down, but Harris launched his shot quickly. As Evans went to dunk his put-back attempt, Harris’ ball swished. It was a photo finish and easily the biggest source of controversy on the day. Evans wisely deferred to his senior, though, and declared himself out.
“He’s dunking the ball,” Harris said, recollecting the play. “I feel like my ball hit the net first so technically I feel like I get the edge on that.”
“I let the vet big guy make the final decision,” Evans admitted, “so I feel like he made the shot first.
“First one together, so I let him slide on this one.”
Nared said after the event that having players in attendance who truly want to be there adds a little extra for the kids.
“Those guys are so good at teaching the fundamentals of the game, which is a huge part of what Jr. NBA is,” he said. “They interact with the kids, they’re high-fiving the kids. It’s a special thing for any kid to come to, and for the kids here to be able to go through that whole process with the players is pretty cool.”
This wasn’t the only contribution the Mavs made to Jr. NBA Week. As part of a YouTube coaching clinic series, Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle led a three-part clinic on shooting, especially focused on shooting form. As this is only the inaugural Jr. NBA Week, it will be interesting to see how much larger the program becomes in the coming years.
“It’s a huge initiative for the NBA, it’s a huge initiative for all the teams,” Nared said. “I think it’s special because we get an opportunity to get into the schools, get into the Boys and Girls Clubs, the YMCAs, and the different non-profits around the U.S. and touch lives. And that’s what it’s all about.”
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