Harrison Barnes wouldn’t be in the NBA if he hadn’t taken academics seriously. And no, that is not hyperbole.

“I lived in a dictatorship household,” he joked. “My mom was very strict. Academics came first before basketball. There were certain requirements I needed to meet in order to play. That’s what really helped me get to where I am, just the fact that I had to have that importance in school, because if I didn’t, I might not have taken it seriously.”

Barnes’ mother worked as a secretary in the Iowa State University music school, so she set very high standards for Harrison as he climbed the basketball ladder and eventually gained national notoriety while still at Ames High School: He said he had to maintain a 3.5 GPA during his freshman year in order to play varsity basketball. As he continued to succeed on the floor, eventually becoming the top-ranked recruit and signing a letter of intent to play at North Carolina, the first-year Maverick was enrolled in AP courses in school and had to meet requirements imposed by his mother in order to continue playing both high school and club basketball.

The reason: An education is the surest way to reach one’s goals. There’s more to life than basketball, and the 24-year-old Barnes, who has said on the record he has considered a political career after his playing days are over, wants to get as much out of life as he possibly can.

He spread that message Wednesday at James Madison High School in Dallas to tip off the Mavs Academic All-Stars program, presented by Flowserve, which recognizes local students for exceptional academic achievement and significant improvement from one grading period to the next. JMHS is one of five Dallas ISD schools in the program — the others being Boude Storey Middle School, Daniel Webster Elementary School, George Washington Carver Elementary School and Edward Titche Elementary School — and each month the Mavs and Flowserve will host “Academic All-Star Breaks,” mentoring and tutoring sessions for students.

“This is what it’s all about, coming to talk to young kids about education, about the importance of taking that seriously,” Barnes said.

Barnes, along with six Mavericks employees, including TV play-by-play voice Mark Followill and Mavs.com’s Earl K. Sneed, spoke to the students in a panel-style forum, taking questions from those in the audience about what motivates them, what they enjoy about their career, and any challenges they’ve had to overcome to get to where they are. One point resonated in particular: If you want to achieve your dreams and reach your goals, you’ve got to cancel out the noise and negativity that tends to surround you, especially at a young age. That might not just come from bad people; it could come from friends, spouses, or even family members. Even those close to you could do things to prevent you from achieving your goals. But, as Mavs marketing manager Keisha Wyatt said, “You’ve got to do you.”

The new Maverick has only been in Dallas for a couple months, so this was the first significant community event he took part in with the Mavericks. However, while playing for the Golden State Warriors, he was on the board of advisers at the Oakland Boys & Girls Club and served on a panel which included former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to award a $5.5 million donation from Google to local non-profits. Among them is the Hidden Genius Project, an Oakland-based organization which encourages and prepares black male youth to pursue careers in STEM fields, with whom Barnes worked once again later in the season.

Clearly this is something Barnes enjoys doing, and although he’s still new to this city, that doesn’t mean he can’t become involved right away.

“You can have a voice immediately,” he said. “But it’s more so the relationship. That’s where the progress is made. It’s easy to say, ‘Hey, stay in school,’ and then walk out the door and never come back. But it’s continuing to do stuff, continuing to have programs that get kids involved, and making them feel that when they achieve in school, there’s some success for that, some appreciation for that, and hopefully it teaches them to keep going.”

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