DALLAS – Harrison Barnes knows that being able to read is one of the essential keys to education and a critical ingredient required towards getting a college degree.

Thus, when the Dallas Mavericks forward spoke to the kids at the North Oak Cliff Branch Library on Thursday — as part of the Mavs Reading Challenge — he stressed to them that although he left the University of North Carolina after two years to chase his NBA dreams, he’s going back to college to get his degree in business administration.

“I don’t want them to think, ‘Well, he went to the NBA, he’s not really worried about his education, or his college, or he dropped out of college, too,’ ” Barnes said. “I always want them to know that I’m trying to do everything I can to continue to learn.”

“Even though I left college, even though I’m in the NBA, I still want to go back and get my degree because anything you start I feel like you should finish. And getting a degree means something.”

It also “means something” for Barnes to reiterate to kids the importance of being able to read, and to read effectively. That’s why the Mavs Reading Challenge – presented by Whataburger in partnership with the Dallas Public Library — is right up his alley.

The challenge is a 15-week program designed to improve reading literacy throughout Dallas and encourage the love of reading for kids of all ages. Parents, kids and teachers can sign up at Mavs.com/readingchallenge or at any of the 29 Dallas Public Library locations.

Kids will be able to track their reading progress for a chance to win special prizes from the Mavericks and Whataburger. To position themselves to earn prizes, the Mavs have challenged students to read (or be read to) for at least 20 minutes a day.

The participants who log 40 days by the end of the program will be entered into a Grand Prize drawing for a chance to win a Mavs Fan Experience, which includes four lower-level tickets, four High Five Line passes and a third Quarter Locker Room Tour for a Mavs home game during the 2018-’19 season.

To kick things off on Thursday, Barnes – following a warm reception from the assembled kids, teachers and parents – read the book, Where’s Spot, to the more than 100 folks in attendance.
“It was nice that he actually read to us,” said 10-year old Will Price. “I know that we can read quite a bit.”

Alexia Vazquez, 7, felt honored that Barnes came to read a book to her and the other kids at the library.

“I liked the story time,” she said. “But I’m new at that book and I’ve never seen it and I’ve never heard it.”

Neither had Barnes.

“I wasn’t familiar with that book, but I’m glad at the few times they didn’t know where Spot was going to be, so that made it all worthwhile,” Barnes said. “I tried to keep them off balance, but these kids are smart.“

In addition to listening to Barnes read Where’s Spot to them, the kids also played an intellectual game of Trivia Pursuit against the Mavs Dancers and ManiAACs. And, ahem, the kids won.

Jessica Watts, the children’s library associate, acknowledged that it’s difficult to measure the long-range ramifications of having Barnes read to the kids. But she admitted that his mere presence was a positive.

“The kids are very excited,” Watts said. “I think it’s a lot of inspiration for the kids. I believe it gives them a lot of motivation to read and stay in school and do something with themselves to have a bright future.”

“I think it motivates them, it keeps them focused and pushes them. I know sometimes they get tired of going to school, but when they get to come out and do things like this I think it keeps them involved and excited.”

This is one of Barnes’ primary platforms, so he’s always eager to go into the community and talk about the power of being able to read.

“I think it’s important just to give these kids encouragement to be reading and to get an education,” Barnes said. “No matter what level you get to, no matter what you do, you always need to be able to read, to be able to learn, to be able to gather information.”

“At the same time, when you get around kids and talk about the importance of education, that’s what it’s all about.”

Watts expressed gratitude to Barnes and to the Mavs for instilling in the kids the value of being able to read.

“I want to tell them thank you so much for taking time out of their schedule to come out and see the kids and be a good support system in the community,” Watts said. “It means a lot.”

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