One-on-one with Deron Williams

Deron Williams dishes on his transition to Dallas, playing for Rick Carlisle, reuniting with Wes Matthews, the Mavs Fantasy Camp and much more.

Are you the go-to guy on your pick-up team? Are you a legend at your neighborhood YMCA? Ever wanted an NBA coach to draw up a last-second shot for you? Or maybe sign a contract with Mavs coach Rick Carlisle looking on?

If the answer to any of those questions was “yes” (or “duh”) then you’ve got to check out Mavs Fantasy Camp presented by Citi, which gives adult ballers ages 23 and up and from all backgrounds a chance to lace ’em up and take the floor with some of the top coaches in the game.

Thirty-five players attended yesterday’s camp, exclusively for Citi Cardmembers. The morning kicked off with a group breakfast before each player met Carlisle and the rest of the Mavs coaching staff. Then, each player inked a one-day contract with the Mavs and took the floor for warm-ups and skills training with the coaches.

Throughout the morning, attendees had the chance to meet with rookie Justin Anderson and new point guard Deron Williams for an open Q&A session. The two Mavs answered all sorts of questions, from what life is like in Dallas, to their thoughts on the roster, to what they think they can bring to the club this season. Williams made sure to remind the campers that Anderson is just a rookie so he doesn’t know the ways of the pros just yet, a small way of hazing the young wing. One camper later challenged Anderson to make a difficult fadeaway three-pointer from the corner, and Anderson simply couldn’t get the shot to fall. There was plenty of playful banter back and forth in between drills.

“I know the guys that participated really appreciated that,” Carlisle said. “We’ve got good guys, year in and year out. Our guys are high-character. They like to make the fan experience as special as possible.”

Chandler Parsons, Devin Harris, and new guard Wes Matthews also stopped by to offer words of encouragement — or just to show off. After putting some shots up himself, Parsons launched a couple three-pointers from the top of the Mavericks practice facility. He made his second attempt and then danced out of the gym. Earlier in the day, he let the campers in on some breaking news: At the beginning of this week he began some more intense drills, after taking the last two weeks or so to find his shooting rhythm. Mavs fans rarely get the opportunity to joke around with and learn from the pros, but this was one of those chances.

After a quick lunch break, the 35 players were split up into four teams for a single-elimination championship tournament. Each team was led by two Mavs coaches, including Kaleb Canales, new assistant Melvin Hunt, former Maverick Darrell Armstrong, and Mavs legend Brad Davis. Radio play-by-play voice Chuck Cooperstein even stopped by to announce the championship game, which featured teams coached by Canales, assisted by Mike Procopio, and Armstrong, who worked with Mike Shedd.

Canales’ team won an overtime thriller to reach the finals, while Armstrong’s recovered well in the semifinals after a slow start to clinch a spot in the championship game. Behind a strong scoring performance by Thomas Merritt, a 6-foot-2 wing from Cedar Park, and the smooth play of Trung Tran, a 5-foot-10 guard from Garland, Armstrong’s team took the trophy in convincing fashion. Merritt was named Finals MVP, at one point scoring 10 straight points for his club.

“Honestly it’s a dream come true,” Merritt said when reflecting on his performance and the event. “I’ve been a Mavs fan since Brad Davis was playing, so it’s great. It’s a great opportunity, and I’m really grateful to be able to be here, listen to Coach Carlisle, go behind the scenes, and see the locker room and some of the players. It’s been fantastic.”

Before the games began, all players took part in a free throw and three-point shooting competition. Winners of each, along with the MVP Merritt, received an autographed picture of Mavs forward Dirk Nowitzki. The day wrapped up with a trophy presentation and a happy hour in the Old No. 7 Club.

It was hard not to be inspired by Armstrong’s enthusiasm from the sideline. He frequently stormed the court to high-five his players after a nice sequence, or even to help up guys who dove on the floor after loose balls. He may or may not have argued a call here or there, as well, pleading to the referee to award free throws after loose-ball fouls. His enthusiasm was contagious.

“You can’t not get energized,” Merritt joked when assessing his coach’s influence. “It’s just amazing how he gets you going. I’d like to use him as an alarm clock in the morning.”

What the camp attendees might not realize is that Armstrong is that energetic all the time. At Mavs practices, for example, he’s notorious for boisterously ringing a bell after a player makes a certain number of buckets in shooting drills. He even occasionally takes the floor for 2-on-2 or 3-on-3 drills with younger players. The campers were getting the real deal at the American Airlines Center — pro drills led by pro minds working hard to coach their guys up.

“We’re simulating a day in the life of being a Maverick,” Carlisle said. “We’re putting them through as much of the stuff as we can. It’s not gonna be exact, but it’s pretty darn close. This has been a great experience for us, putting this on.

“It’s something we look forward to every year,” he added. “This group did an outstanding job.”

The next Mavs Fantasy Camp will take place next year. If you’ve ever wanted a crack at catching Carlisle’s attention, earning praise from an NBA coach, or driving the lane for a finish at the rim on the AAC hardwood, you won’t want to miss out.

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