PLANO – A first-of-its-kind happened for the Mavericks on Friday afternoon.

Of the hundreds of junior camps and clinics that the team has organized through the years, Friday’s event at Prestonwood Christian Academy was the first one staged specifically for special-needs children.

Mavericks players Jalen Brunson and Justin Jackson, barely 12 hours after arriving home from New York at the end of a six-day road trip, helped the Mavs Basketball Academy host the group that consisted of students from St. Timothy and Prestonwood Christian at the Jr. NBA Clinic, presented by Nike.

The kids got a full taste of basketball fundamentals, with an emphasis on fun. They participated in drills and games with Brunson and Jackson, who both spoke to the group about basketball and life lessons.

Mostly about the life skills that basketball can help develop.

One story was particularly impactful.

Jackson told the group of kids who ranged in age from kindergarten to high school about how he lost the national championship game in college – to Brunson’s Villanova team when Brunson was a freshman. It brought chuckles from the attendees, but the lesson was clear.

Jackson and North Carolina won the championship the following season, which taught him the value of perseverance.

“Failure is one of the best teachers you can have,” Jackson said. “There are times when you can do everything right, and still fail. But if you learn from all the times you come up short, you can always come back and try again and that’s important in anything you do in life.”

Brunson said this camp – one of many he has been part of – hit home because it was for kids with special needs. None of these will ever be star players at any level.

But the beauty of basketball is that you can have fun doing it at any level.

“I liked practicing the dribbling and the shooting,” said Jacob Phegley, an 18-year-old senior at St. Timothy. “The Mavericks are very cool. It was really fun.”

The Mavericks are hosting free basketball clinics across North Texas in conjunction with after-school programs and other nonprofit partners to grow the game and teach teamwork, respect, sportsmanship and other core values.

The Jr. NBA is the league’s youth basketball participation program that focuses on helping grow the game and improve the youth basketball experience for players, coaches and parents. It offers free curriculum to players of all levels.

About 75 kids were involved at the Prestonwood Jr. NBA Clinic.

“Me and Justin had a great time with the children from St. Timothy with special needs, playing some basketball and having fun with the kids,” Brunson said.

“Justin does a great job getting out in the community. It’s important to give back. And even if we weren’t in the NBA, this is something I definitely would be doing. The youth are our next generation. It’s important, not just to them but to me as well.”

And Brunson said the lessons they pass along are every bit as important as the basketball they teach.

“We always talk about how we grew up and the things that helped make us better,” Brunson said. “I try to tell them that I worked hard to get where I am, but that it wasn’t easy. There are going to be obstacles in the road. It’s how you get through them.”

Twitter: @ESefko

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