Yogi’s game experience

DALLAS – Armed with stacks and stacks of infinite memories from the days when he was a youngster, Dallas Mavericks guard Yogi Ferrell was recently on another pay-it-forward mission.

As is his custom when he steps outside of his box, Ferrell treated nearly 20 kids ages 4-14 from Project Real L.O.V.E. to a “Mavs Experience.” That included a trip to a Mavs home game against Minnesota, courtside seats to watch the Mavs warm up, and special seats in the Mavs Zone.

To top off the exhilarating evening, after the game against the Timberwolves, the kids got to shoot around and play a few games of Knockout with Ferrell on the Mavs’ practice court. Indeed, it was a memorable night since the overwhelming majority of these kids had never attended a National Basketball Association game before.

“This is huge to the organization and it means a lot to me because my passion is for the youth,” said Charmaine Herron, the executive director of Project Real L.O.V.E. “These are our kids that play basketball and their dreams are to be in the NBA, so coming here and being able to meet Yogi Ferrell and watch him play is great.”

“They even got to go courtside, and some of them were like, ‘Man, it was amazing. We saw Dirk (Nowitzki) and Yogi Ferrell.’ And why we’re sitting back there they’re talking about Yogi Ferrell and how amazing this is and how thankful they are.”

Ferrell, for his part, sounded like he wanted to thank the kids for giving him the privilege to entertain them. As a kid growing up in Indianapolis, Ind., Ferrell recalls going to high school games involving future NBA players Mike Conley Jr., George Hill, Jeff Teague and Greg Oden, and wanting to one day be in their shoes.

For Ferrell, that day arrived 15 months ago when the Mavs signed him off the Long Island Nets’ NBA G League roster. Ever since then, the second-year guard has been in pay-it-forward mode.

“I remember I went to a Lawrence North High School (in Indianapolis) and I watched Greg Oden and Mike Conley play,” Ferrell said. “I got their autographs after the game and I was hyped after I got that.”

“I feel like it all goes hand-in-hand,” Ferrell said. “It’s all about giving back and inspiring the next person.”

Ferrell hopes that inspiration spreads from one kid to the next, and inspires them to be good citizens in their community, and to pay it forward whenever they can.

“This means a lot to me, because I’ve never really seen an NBA player in real life,” said Marcus Vinson, a 13-year old from Duncanville’s Kennemer Middle School. “Plus, I didn’t really have to pay for anything.

“I just came out here to have fun and to play basketball.” Jmaury Davis, a 14-year old from Crowley Middle School, said he’ll have this day etched in his mind for a long, long time.

“It was nice to be able to look up close to a real basketball player, a real NBA player,” Davis said. “It makes me want to do more, practice more and be like (Ferrell) one day. Or be better than him.”

Even Mavs Chief Executive Officer, Cynthia ‘Cynt’ Marshall, got in on the action. Marshall spent a great deal of time dribbling the basketball and playing some lockdown defense with five-year old Imery Lewis.

“I love playing with little Imery , because she was serious,” Marshall said. “I started out just playing with her and you can just tell she has a love for the game.”

“She took off with that basketball, but because I have a love for the game, for a minute I forgot I was playing with a five-year old and I stole that ball from her and took off and she came and got it and we just had a good time together. Shame on me for being competitive like that, but she’s a honey.”

Marshall noted that she’s delighted that Ferrell took time out of his busy schedule to share some life lessons with the youngsters.

“It’s just good to be with these young people and to really see what the Mavericks are doing with young people,” Marshall said. “People don’t always get to see what goes on behind the scenes.

“We are influencing young lives and we are using basketball to teach life lessons and to reach out to the community and show these young people – I call them honeys – just how much we care about them and what basketball and sports can do and teach them in terms of discipline, hard work and practice. So it’s just a way to show them some love, and this particular program in general is trying to teach these kids life skills, so we’re just happy to partner with these folks and teach them some life skills.”

Ferrell said his favorite part of the event was just simply playing with the kids.

“When I was younger I was playing with some of the greats that came out of Indiana,” Ferrell said. “So (these kids) just look at me as another one of those guys, and that’s what I want to do is inspire them like others have inspired myself.

“I feel like teaching the next generation about hard work and being a good person and showing good character to people is what’s going to make and drive our world, so I like doing this for the kids.”

The words “L.O.V.E.” in Project Real L.O.V.E. stands for Leadership, Obedience, Victory and Excellence. The program is passionate about empowering young people and wanting them to succeed in life.

“I invited them to the game and I just wanted to show them how hard I work,” Ferrell said. “A lot of them said they want to be basketball players, so they see how I play on the court.

“I just wanted to give them something they could talk about for the rest of the year and give them some motivation to go out and want to be better.”

Marshall is appreciative that Ferrell is all-in when it comes to trying to steer kids in the right direction.

“You know what’s good is that he’s giving them an experience, so it’s not just a game,” Marshall said. “It’s an experience and something that will spark something in them to where they will want to be in a position where they can attend games (when they get older), or they can bring kids to games. “

“You just never know what this means. I know this from growing up — one thing can spark you to greatness.”

That’s what Herron is banking on Yogi Ferrell’s event doing.

“These kids have never even been to a Mavericks game, so being here for them is like a dream come true,” Herron said. “I’m so thankful and so appreciative. Not only did they get to come to a game, but they got to shoot around with a star, and then I got to meet the CEO of the Mavericks. That’s an inspiration for me. I’m just looking forward to more things happening like this with the Mavericks and Real Love and Kevin Ferrell’s Foundation.”

Wesley Matthews cleared for basketball activities, plans to pick up the player-option year on his contract

DALLAS – During Sunday’s 10th Annual Festival De Los Mavs at Gilley’s, Dallas Mavericks guard Wesley Matthews said he has been cleared to resume regular basketball activities without any restrictions.

Matthews recently had an MRI after sustaining a fracture to his right proximal fibula during the Mavs’ 114-80 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Mar. 10. Asked if he can do whatever he wants in regards to basketball, Matthews said: “Yes I can. Which is a dangerous thing.

“Now I’m going to go try and find a pickup game.”

Matthews has a player-option on his contract that will pay him $18.62 million next season. He said he will pick up that option and return and play next season with the Mavs.

“Obviously that’s something that hasn’t been on my mind,” Matthews said. “That’s what you have an agent for and agencies for.

“Like I said, I don’t plan on being anywhere else. And now it’s just focusing on getting back healthy, which I am now, and getting on this court.”

Matthews’ injury forced him to miss the final 16 games of the season. In all, the nine-year veteran played 63 games this season, which is the fewest in his career besides the 60 games he played during the 2014-’15 campaign when he torn his left Achilles while he was a member of the Portland Trail Blazers.

This past season Matthews led the Mavs in steals (1.21), was second in minutes played (33.8), third in scoring (12.7) and third in 3-point shooting (38.1 percent) while also being the team’s top perimeter defender. For now, as he tries to locate a “pickup game” to his liking, Matthews has been calling rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. and second-year forward Dorian Finney-Smith in hopes that they’ve been paying close attention to the current competitive and sometimes combative NBA playoffs.

“I’m watching these playoff games and I’m getting that hunger and I’m calling some of the young guys,” Matthews said. “I’ve been calling (Finney-Smith) and I’ve been calling Dennis and making sure that they’re tuned in watching these games.

“You can feel the passion and the fight on the TV. We’ve got to have that as soon as we can get back playing again from (training) camp. We don’t want to be watching (the playoffs) again.”

One of the reasons Matthews noted that it’s a no-brainer for him to pick up the player-option on his contract and return to the Mavs is because of the positive “personalities” within the organization.

“You don’t find too many places where, top to bottom, everybody gets along with everybody,” Matthews said. “We never turned on each other, we never flaked on each other.

“This is an organization that’s a prideful organization — it’s had a lot of success. This is a very successful championship organization and these past two seasons in not making the playoffs and being in the lottery is not ideal for anybody to be a part of it.”

The Mavs advanced to the playoffs 15 out of 16 seasons from 2001-’16 before unfortunately missing the postseason the past two years. Matthews steadfastly believes the Mavs will be one of the eight Western Conference teams earning a postseason berth next season, and he points to the close bond the team has as Exhibit A.

“A lot of times you see teams and coaching staffs and organizations kind of splinter and point fingers, and we never did that at any point,” Matthews said. “Even when we’re just in the locker room with ourselves, on the bus, on the plane, we never did that. We rallied.

“That’s a special thing. Now we’ve just got to turn that into what we’re capable of being, and that’s in the postseason.”

Mavs CEO Cynthia “Cynt’ Marshall received two prestigious honors from California State Legislature

DALLAS – The honors just keep on coming for Cynthia “Cynt’ Marshall.

Less than two months after historically being named the chief executive officer of the Dallas Mavericks, last Thursday Marshall received two prestigious honors in Sacramento, CA, when she was honored during two separate ceremonies on the floor of the California Assembly and the California Senate.

A product of Richmond, CA, Marshall was nearly speechless when recalling the two events.

Marshall said: “The different senators and assembly people and the chaplain, they went crazy just because they’re just so proud of this Richmond product who has made history in the NBA as the first African-American (woman) CEO of an NBA team.”

At first, Marshall had no intentions of attending the events. Until she received more information of what all it entailed.

“I didn’t want to go, but then they were calling and they said they felt like they were being snubbed,” Marshall said. “And you know me, that’s not my personality. But I don’t like the hype.

“Then somebody finally said (Mavs owner) Mark Cuban made history and the California policy makers are proud of it and they’re proud of you, you have to show up for this. So I literally landed in Sacramento that night, I went and did the two ceremonies and then I got right back on the plane and came back and I didn’t tell anybody.”

However, what transpired last Thursday in Sacramento leaked out.

“But here’s what was great,” Marshall said. “So I’m standing there on the floor and I have what I have on now. I wear this (Dallas Mavericks) pin with pride, so I had my Dallas Mavericks pin on the one side. And when I left California the governor had given me – 11 years ago – a gold pin in the shape of California.

“So I had my Dallas Mavericks pin on one side (on my lapel) and my California pin on the other side, and then they had a reception for me and I walked in and it was all Mavs. Mavs basketballs. Mavs balloons. Mavs everything. In the California legislature. Is that crazy? I said, ‘I have brought my two worlds together.’ ”

Marshall, who has a degree from the University of California-Berkeley in business administration and human resources management, was overwhelmed that the California State Legislature wanted to honor her.

“I thought it was just going to be one ceremony,” Marshall said. “I’m like, ‘OK, perfect. I just have to do this once.’

“I’m on the floor of the Assembly and the guy does his speech and he does his thing. Then they’re like, ‘OK, now we’ve got to go to the Senate so they can do their thing.’ Isn’t that cool?”

Nowitzki will have stitches removed from his surgically repaired left ankle on Monday

DALLAS – It’s been 17 days since Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki underwent surgical debridement of his left ankle. Since then, Nowitzki has gone from wearing a long walking boot to a much more comfortable shorter version.

The 20-year veteran announced during the 10th Annual Festival De Los Mavs on Sunday at Gilley’s Dallas that the stitches will be moved from his surgically repaired left ankle on Monday. And that procedure will be a big step in Nowitzki’s rehab process.

“It’s been over two weeks now (since the surgery) and I’m moving around without (the walking boot) already pretty good at home,” Nowitzki said. “But once you step out (of the house), I’ll still wear the boot.

“It’s progressing good, but it’ll be awhile until I can run and do basketball activities. I already started rehabbing a little bit and riding the bike and lifting a little bit and doing some movement stuff. It’s going to be, unfortunately, a piece of work all summer, but hopefully it’s going to help me next season.”

Nowitzki, who turns 40 on June 19, couldn’t say whether or not if he’s ahead of schedule as far as his rehab is concerned. But he was jovial as he signed autographs and took pictures with Mavs fans on Sunday.

And Nowitzki reiterated that he’s looking forward to getting back on the court and trying to help the Mavs get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2016.

“I’m not even sure what schedule, but I think we’re on,” said Nowitzki, who underwent surgery on Apr. 5. “I’m supposed to wear the boot, they said, originally for four weeks. I’m walking around already without it pretty good at home. Like I said, once I step out I’m probably going to wear it for a couple more weeks.

“Hopefully when May rolls around I can do a little more and walk around and maybe do a little more stuff in the weight room. But we’ll see how it goes.”

More than anything, as Nowitzki approaches what could be his final NBA season, he would like to retire following a season that’s more palatable than the 24-58 season the Mavs recently completed.

“I miss the playoffs the last couple of years,” Nowitzki said. “The intensity goes up, the atmosphere is amazing, so it’s still tough to watch.

“Obviously in our league the fun comes with winning, so hopefully we can get back to winning some games.”
Nowitzki is expecting the Mavs to draft a player who can contribute right away, and also pick up a solid free agent or two this summer. In the meantime, he’s concentrating on getting his ankle in tip-top shape in time for training camp next fall.

“The foot is not great,’ Nowitzki said. “That’s obvious after 20 years in the league. I think I got arthritis in every joint I have in my body, which is normally I guess after 20 years.

“But they corrected that one area that it was just blocking me and bothering me all season long, and hopefully it’ll be a lot better next season.”

Mavs looking for players with good character, leadership skills

DALLAS – When the Dallas Mavericks pull up a chair to the NBA Draft and free agency tables this summer, there are two important ingredients they’ll be searching for in their quest to get back into the postseason.

Leadership and good character.

That’s the message according to Donnie Nelson, the Mavs’ long-time general manager and one of the people expected to help turn the Mavs into a championship contender again.

Nelson went out of his way to discuss the leadership skills and character Harrison Barnes, Dennis Smith Jr., Wesley Matthews and J.J. Barea exhibited this season. Then his attention turned to Dirk Nowitzki, the quinnessential leader of the Mavs who plans to return next year for an unprecedented 21st season.

Nelson even got emotional when talking about what Nowitzki means to the Mavs, to the city of Dallas and to Nelson personally. He pointed out how the Mavs are “just truly blessed” to have a player of such stature who has been a part of their lineage for two decades, and who has been like the conductor of a band during the team’s latest rebuilding process.

“What (Nowitzki) does for this city and this organization is unique and special,” Nelson said. “It’s a period of rebuilding in a guy that’s been through that, and he knows what it’s like to see his point guard booed in his own building – Steve Nash went through that (booing in 1999).

“(Nowitzki) knows what it’s like to, in year one and two, get thrown around like a rag doll and earn your stripes in the NBA. So for him to step up again for this city and this franchise is inspirational to everyone. That’s the kind of leadership and character that Harrison Barnes has in his DNA, and Wesley Matthews and J.J. Barea. Those are the things that are very special and unique about this team, and those are the things that we’re looking for in this year’s free agency and draft.”

The NBA Draft Lottery is May 15 and that will determine where the Mavs will pick in the June 21 NBA Draft. Meanwhile, the free agency moratorium period that allows teams to start negotiating verbal agreements with players begins on July 1.

Until then, Nelson has mapped out an impactful plan to get the Mavs back into the playoff picture. And it starts with players that are already wearing the Mavs’ uniforms.

“We’re committed to the right people in that locker room that are going to take this franchise to the next phase,” Nelson said. “We know we have that in some of our young players. That would be Dennis Smith Jr. as the quarterback and a first-year guy that’s been thrown into a difficult situation.

“Harrison Barnes is young and that other leader in that locker room carrying that baton through this rebuilding phase.”

Like last summer, when the Mavs used the No. 9 overall selection to draft a can’t-miss prospect in Smith, they know they can’t miss again in this year’s draft, which will see Dallas pick no lower than sixth overall.

“It’s critical that we again have a real nice draft pick,” Nelson said. “We’re not sure where we’re going to pick, but it’s another nice opportunity to add the third piece.”

Smith, who averaged 15.2 points and 5.2 assists this season and became the apple of the fans’ eyes with his penchant for manufacturing jaw-dropping dunks at a moment’s notice, is thoroughly convinced that the Mavs will draft a player who will become a fixture in their rotation next season.

“I believe that we can do a pretty good job of drafting,” Smith said. “You know I’m blessed to be a part of this organization and they’ve shown that they know talent, so I’m sure we’ll get somebody really good.”

Smith even offered to reach out and help the Mavs recruit some free agents if they ask him to.

“I’m about winning,” Smith said. “They’ve got a good eye for talent. . .But if I can help to get that guy, I’m all for it.”

Needless to say, Nelson may take Smith up on that offer.

“We’re going to be very, very active in free agency, but I think if there’s a common theme in what you see, it’s character,” Nelson said. “And character has been there all year long in this locker room.”

And when it comes to “character’ and the Mavs, Nowitzki is at the top of that laundry list. Nowitzki, who turns 40 on June 19, was the undisputed ringleader when the Mavs defeated the Miami Heat in six games and captured the 2011 NBA title.

“It’s Dirk that certainly knows what it’s like to sip from the (championship) cup, and he knows what it’s like to start out in a not great situation 20 years ago,” Nelson said. “He’s been from the lowest of lows, going to the Finals and having that cup ripped from his hands (by the Heat in 2006), and he’s experienced the high of going through tough times and knowing what it takes to build teams into championship caliber.

“We’re going through that right now. I can tell you that the chemistry and the character in that locker room is as good as it’s ever been.”

And that chemistry and character – and leadership – are intangibles the Mavs are counting on to help get them back in their customary seat at the playoff table.

“When you have guys like Dirk, Wesley Matthews – who is our gladiator – J.J. Barea, Harrison Barnes, you’re talking about quality professional athletes at the very, very highest level,” Nelson said. “Those are the guys that are going to pull us through, with a great coach (in Rick Carlisle).

“You guys know that in my humble opinion Rick is the best in the business. Those are the things that are going to get us through this period of time as quickly as possible, and we’re looking forward to that moment.”

The Mavs climb back up

Exit Interview Highlights

Check out what the players, Rick Carlisle, and Donnie Nelson had to say at exit interviews!

Mount Everest is 29,029 feet tall, the tallest mountain in the world.

Sitting on the border of Tibet and Nepal, Mount Everest is the ultimate accomplishment for people in the climbing and hiking world.

From spending thousands of dollars to months of preparation, the sacrifice humans make from around the world to accomplish the feat is unfathomable for some. According to a recent New York Times article, six people died trying to climb the mountain in 2017, a common number according to the article.

As for people who spend the money and make the sacrifices to attempt the months-long climb, roughly half of them actually complete it.

In 2011, the Dallas Mavericks completed their own climb up the mountain.

After 30 seasons as a franchise and 12 of them with Dirk Nowitzki, it was time to finally summit the mountain. The Mavericks won their first NBA championship after beating the Miami Heat in 2011.

All of the sacrifice, dedication and hard work had paid off. The Mavericks were kings of the basketball world.

But just like climbing Mount Everest, you eventually have to come back down. It’s inevitable, and never easy. And the Dallas Mavericks did just that.

“Being here 10 years, I knew there was going to be a point where things would take a downturn,” Rick Carlisle said at his exit interview. “It is almost impossible to stay really good forever. Unfortunately, at times, you have to get really bad to get really good again .”

Over the past two seasons, Dallas lost a combined 107 games, capping off the 2017-18 season with just 24 wins. It was just the eighth time in franchise history the club has finished with 25 or less wins.

“Difficult year for all of us. Coaches, players, fans, ownership, management,” Donnie Nelson said at exit interviews on Wednesday . “We do not want to go back to what we just experienced. That is unanimous from the top on down.”

Over the first month of the season, the Mavericks got off to a 2-14 start after an injury to Seth Curry in the preseason. That start put the Mavericks in a hole they could never climb back out of.

“When you have starts like that to the season it is going to be a grind after that,” J.J. Barea said. “A lot of young kids that played a lot of minutes that I think will be great for next year. But for this year, it was tough.”

The season was capped off with a 27-point loss to the Phoenix Suns and a final team meeting the next day that set the tone for the offseason. As each player took his turn speaking to the media during exit interviews, Wesley Matthews loved the demeanor from the meeting.

“Pissed off” is how he liked to describe it.

The message was simple: They have to get better as a team and it starts with each and every one of them.

But even though the total of losses is the most since the 1997-98 season, this isn’t rock bottom. This isn’t the beginning of the rebuild. This isn’t the beginning of the climb back up the mountain.

One of the first steps in the journey to climb Mount Everest is the 10-14 day hike to the Everest Base Camp which sits roughly 17,500 feet up the mountain. It is here that climbers spend time — sometimes weeks — adjusting to the altitude and preparing for the eventual climb to the summit.

The Mavericks are at base camp.

“Ironically, 20 years ago when we first got here to build this thing it started with a point guard,” Nelson said. “Started with Michael Finley, which is our modern day Harrison Barnes. And it started with a floppy-headed German that ended up being pretty good.” The excitement of the future with this year’s draft, Dennis Smith, Harrison, young building blocks. As well as Dwight Powell and some of our other young players, is an exciting part of the franchise moving forward.”

Michael Finley arrived in Dallas via a trade during his second season in the league at 23 years old. Steve Nash came to Dallas a couple of years later in a trade while entering his third year in the league at 24 years old.

On the same day the Mavericks traded for Nash, they made a draft day trade landing a German kid named Dirk Nowitzki.

Dallas had its new big three.

“The good news is we have been through the drill before. We know how it is done,” Nelson said. “We are doing it the same way we built this team 20 years ago when Mark first came in. He had Fin, his leadership piece. He had a young Steve Nash that was just coming into his own. He had Dirk. Those were the three guys we built this franchise around. We have two or three of those pieces. Hopefully in this year’s draft we get a third piece. All of them, whether they are free agents, will have that same DNA that Dirk is going to pass down.”

In fact, it started before Dirk, Fin and Nash. It has been in the DNA of the franchise since the beginning in 1980.

“When you go through retooling and rebuilding situations it is done with the right people, the right character people,” Nelson said. “I think ever since Don Carter launched this franchise back in 1980, it was done with Rolando Blackman, Brad Davis and Derek Harper. Then Dirk and Michael Finley carried the baton. That is what we are committed to. Committed to the right people in that locker room that will take this franchise to the next phase.”

It is the transitioning to the next stage in the franchise that can sometimes be the hardest part. But if you have the right people leading you through the process, then it makes it that much easier for the people behind them to succeed.

What better companion to have than Dirk Nowitzki to guide this young core to the next phase of the franchise?

“If you are going with a team like I have for so long, if that is what it takes, that is what it takes,” Nowitzki said on embracing the rebuild last spring. “At the end of the day, I can’t imagine myself in a different uniform. That is why I made that decision. Whatever comes, if we are rebuilding then I’m the face of that. If we are championship, then I’m here for that. I just identified myself with the organization so long, with the fan base, with the city, that no matter what the team or the franchise is going through, I’m right there to push it through.”

Now, after appearing in 77 games during his 20th season in the league, Dirk Nowitzki plans on being back for his 21st season in Dallas. Nelson became emotional when talking about Nowitzki’s decision to return to Dallas for another season.

“What he does for this city and this organization is unique and special, to embrace it in a period of rebuilding,” Nelson said. “For him to step up again for this city and this franchise is inspirational to everyone. That is the kind of leadership and character that Harrison Barnes has in his DNA. And Wesley Matthews and J.J. Barea. Those are the things that are special and unique about this team.”

Chemistry and character in the locker room is the key to everything.

“I think if there is a common theme in what we see, it is character. Character has been there all year long in this locker room and it starts with Dirk,” Nelson said. “I can tell you that the chemistry and character in that locker room is as good as it has ever been.”

Dennis Smith Jr. was asked about his rookie season with Nowitzki this year and chose to praise the work ethic from the veteran. Even giving recent examples of seeing Nowitzki after his ankle surgery in the weight room getting in a workout with his medical boot on.

That is the character and work ethic that is contagious.

And that is beyond just the veterans. Dennis Smith Jr. and Harrison Barnes have taken on bigger roles as leaders and fit exactly the kind of character Dallas is building their roster around.

“We know we have that in some of our young players like Dennis Smith Jr. as the quarterback and a first year guy that was thrown into a difficult situation. Harrison Barnes that is young, but another leader in our locker room carrying that baton through this rebuilding phase,” Nelson said.

With multiple players hitting free agency, a heap of cap space and three draft picks, the possibilities are endless for Dallas this summer. But none is more important than the team’s first round pick that will be somewhere in the top six on draft night.

Nelson, Carlisle and the organization realize the importance of this pick and the potential it has to land the third piece to the puzzle.

“It really helps when you have three or more young guys like back in the day with Dirk, Nash and Fin,” Nelson said. “To have three guys to go through those wars together. It is honestly fun to see those situations manifest themselves and those guys get better.”

How close are the Mavericks to being back in the playoffs?

“I think we are close,” Barea said . “We are a lot closer than we were a couple of years ago. With a couple of free agents we could get and with the young guys experience they had this year and the guys coming back. I think we will be fine.”

“There weren’t but just a handful of games we were completely out of it,” Matthews added. “We just lost the games we shouldn’t have lost. There were games that we had and games we let go.”

Indeed, the Mavs were in their fair share of close games in 2017-18, and the young core will hopefully learn from those experiences. With a few tweaks, some luck on the health side and a successful summer, it’s not unrealistic to see the Mavericks back in the playoffs next season. At least that is the goal.

“This is an important summer for us. Our goal is to make a giant step towards the playoffs,” Mark Cuban said.

“We are very confident. This is a situation we are not used to,” Nelson said. “It is literally a fish out of water deal…our fans deserve better than this.”

As for a message to the loyal MFFLs, Nelson gives hope that there are brighter days to come.

“My message to the fans is this season will hopefully never happen again,” Nelson said. “We are extremely excited about the draft and free agency. Hang with us. There are brighter days to come. This is the way we did this thing back 20 years ago. It has to be done with chemistry and character. Hopefully you won’t have to be too patient. I know our owner isn’t.”

The Mavericks have already begun their climb back up the mountain as bringing in Harrison Barnes and drafting Dennis Smith Jr. got them to base camp. Now it is time to add the next piece and head towards the summit.

“We are not going to have this conversation next year,” Matthews said. “We want to get back to where this franchise should be, to where we as players feel we should be. That is in the playoffs. That is fighting and competing. A chance to bring hardware back here.”

As for how long it will be before the Mavericks taste the postseason again, Smith made it very clear that it is just around the corner.

“A year. I think we will get it next season,” Smith Jr. said.

En las sombras: las historias de God Shammgod y Mike Procopio (In The Shadows: The Stories Of God Shammgod & Mike Procopio)

Si dijéramos que los Dallas Mavericks cuentan con toda una leyenda entre sus filas, lógicamente las mentes de todos pensarían rápidamente en Dirk Nowitzki, el mejor jugador europeo de todos los tiempos y uno de los mejores de la historia en la NBA, en la que actualmente ocupa el sexto puesto en la clasificación histórica de anotadores.

Sin embargo, hay otra leyenda en los Mavs. Se trata de un jugador que solo disputó una temporada en la NBA, y que en 20 partidos como base de los Washington Wizards en la temporada 1997-98 promedió 3.1 puntos y 1.8 asistencias por partido para después continuar su carrera hasta 2009 con periplos por las ligas menores estadounidenses, Polonia, Arabia Saudí, China, Kuwait y Croacia.

¿Cómo es posible que consideremos a este trotamundos como una leyenda? Es posible porque el anteriormente conocido como Shammgod Wells no es una leyenda cualquiera. Es posible porque el actualmente conocido como God Shammgod es una leyenda callejera del baloncesto debido a su extraordinario dominio del bote.

God Shammgod es uno de los mejores dribladores de todos los tiempos. Creció en el barrio de Harlem, en New York, para después pasar a La Salle Academy. Fue McDonald’s All-American en 1995 junto a Vince Carter, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Chauncey Billups, Stephon Marbury, Shareef Abdur-Rahim o Antawn Jamison. Jugó y estudió en Providence College, y fue seleccionado con el pick 45 en el Draft de 1997, el mismo que Tim Duncan, Tracy McGrady o Billups. Pero, como ya hemos dicho, su carrera como profesional se desarrolló especialmente fuera de Estados Unidos. Pese a esto, Shammgod dejó una gran huella en el baloncesto estadounidense.

Muy pocas personas pueden decir que un movimiento de cualquier deporte lleva su nombre porque lo popularizaron ellos, y menos en el mundo del baloncesto. God Shammgod sí que puede decirlo con un movimiento de dribbling espectacular: el Shammgod.

“La primera vez que la gente me vio hacerlo fue en la universidad contra Arizona en el NCAA Tournament,” explicaba Shammgod en una entrevista a Ball Is Life. “No fui yo personalmente quien lo llamó ‘el Shammgod’, fue simplemente algo que hice y no fue hasta que empecé a escuchar a la gente llamarlo así cuando me di cuenta de que se había convertido en algo. Tras unos años el nombre empezó a extenderse.”

En el corto documental “The Shammgod: How God Shammgod’s Legendary Crossover Lives on in Today’s Stars”, realizado por Bleacher Report, jugadores con un gran control del balón como Jamal Crawford, Kyrie Irving o Damian Lillard alaban este movimiento letal, y también podemos ver cómo lo llevan a cabo otros como Chris Paul o Russell Westbrook.

“El movimiento en sí es tan bueno que es muy identificable,” explica Jamal Crawford en el documental. “Sabes que es ese movimiento en cuanto lo ves. Y es suyo. He visto a gente a lo largo de los años intentar imitarlo pero nadie puede hacerlo tan bien como él.”

“Creo que es increíble que el movimiento haya transcendido generaciones,” dijo Shammgod para el documental. “Russell Westbrook es un jugador tan completo e importante ahora mismo que estoy muy orgulloso de que también lo utilice. Su movimiento contra los Suns fue legendario y me honra formar parte de ello en cierta manera.”

La calidad de los movimientos de Shammgod era tan buena ya antes de convertirse en famoso que durante su etapa en el instituto el mismo Kobe Bryant le pidió ayuda para mejorar sus movimientos de dribbling.

“Fue durante el ABCD Camp cuando estábamos en el instituto,” contaba Shammgod a Hoopist en 2012. “A él le gustaba mucho cómo botaba yo el balón, así que me pidió que le ayudara con su manejo. Jugamos en el mismo equipo durante aquel campus, y en ese tiempo le enseñé algunas cosas que parece que le ayudaron. Hoy en día aún habla sobre cómo le ayudaron las cosas que le enseñé.”

Si leéis esto desde Europa y tenéis ya unos cuantos años, probablemente estéis pensando que ese movimiento os resulta familiar. Y así es, porque aunque Shammgod lo popularizase en Estados Unidos ya habíamos visto versiones previas similares del movimiento en Europa, con el serbio Dragan Kicanovic y el croata Danko Cvjeticanin como algunos de los primeros antecedentes. Podríamos decir que el ‘Shammgod’ es para el mundo NBA algo parecido a lo que ‘El látigo’ de Dejan Bodiroga es para el mundo FIBA, pues fue este último quién popularizó su versión aquí.

También hemos podido ver al argentino Manu Ginobili hacer su propia versión del movimiento en más de una ocasión. Así que, como hemos visto, técnicamente God Shammgod no inventó el movimiento, no fue el primero en hacerlo, pero sí es quien lo ha convertido en famoso al menos en la órbita de la NBA. Y esas cualidades en el control del balón que le ayudaron a llegar a la liga en 1997 hicieron que regresara de nuevo dos décadas después.

En julio de 2016 los Dallas Mavericks contrataron a God Shammgod como entrenador de desarrollo, centrado especialmente en las funciones de bote, y el verano pasado extendieron su contrato. La llegada de Shammgod coincidió con la de Harrison Barnes, y el alero se benefició especialmente de lo que el nuevo entrenador de desarrollo pudo enseñarle a lo largo del verano. Barnes sorprendió con un rendimiento muy por encima de lo esperado para aquella temporada, y mucho tuvo que ver su mejoría en el bote y en el ataque del uno contra uno.

El año pasado los Mavs seleccionaron en el Draft al que Shammgod considera el mejor base de su generación: Dennis Smith Jr. Ambos se conocieron primero en el Under Armour’s 2014 Elite 24 Camp, y después volvieron a conectar en Adidas Nations y otros campus de baloncesto, completando siempre al menos una sesión de entrenamiento individual entre los dos. En todas las ocasiones le decía lo mismo: “eres el mejor base de tu clase”. En el Draft de junio de 2017, uno de los primeros mensajes de bienvenida a los Mavericks que recibió Smith Jr. fue de su nuevo entrenador de desarrollo.

Desde entonces, Dennis Smith Jr. se puso en manos de dos de los mejores y más reconocibles entrenadores de desarrollo de la NBA. Uno ya lo hemos presentado, God Shammgod. Es momento ahora de conocer al otro: Mike Procopio.

En el verano de 2013 los Dallas Mavericks quisieron dar una vuelta de tuerca a su trabajo de desarrollo con los jugadores jóvenes, y contrataron como director de desarrollo de jugadores de la franquicia a Mike Procopio. Mark Cuban quería al mejor, y el mejor le dijeron que era él. Aunque por fuera quizás no lo pareciese.

Darrell Armstrong, entrenador asistente y otro de los responsables del desarrollo de jugadores de los Mavs, jugó en la NBA durante 14 años, disputando en total casi 900 partidos. Mide más de 6-0 pies, lo que equivale a 1’83 metros, y basta verlo al lado de Rick Carlisle en la banda para tener la impresión de que el uniforme con el que ganó el premio al Mejor Sexto Hombre en 1999 aún le quedaría perfecto.

¿Procopio? Mide 1’70 y se pasa bastante de los 100 kilos. Es bajito y calvo. Se parece más a los vendedores de comida o a los guardias de seguridad del American Airlines Center. Durante su primera temporada en Dallas el periodista Jaime Aron hizo un perfil sobre él para la Suffolk University Magazine. En ese texto explicaba que la carrera de Procopio como jugador alcanzó su punto más alto en el instituto, cuando anotó sus cuatro puntos (ni siquiera en el mismo partido) en el equipo de Revere High, que terminó con balance 0-20. Pero Procopio entiende el baloncesto a un nivel de microscopio. No es experto en Xs y Os, pero sí en cosas como en qué posición debe estar la cadera cuando se dribla entre las piernas para ir hacia la izquierda, el correcto movimiento de los pies en ataque con el balón y sin él, y en corregir fallos en la mecánica de tiro. Dwight Powell o Dorian Finney-Smith son dos de los proyectos con los que más tiempo ha pasado recientemente, con resultados evidentes.

Kobe Bryant confió en Procopio durante un par de temporadas que terminaron en campeonato. Tim Grover, el entrenador de confianza de Michael Jordan, lo contrató para ser el responsable de la parte baloncestística de su gimnasio. Veteranos de los Celtics como Danny Ainge, ahora presidente de operaciones de la franquicia, y Kevin McHale hablan con él prácticamente a diario.

¿Cómo alguien conocido en el mundo del baloncesto como Sweetchuck (personaje de Loca Academia de Policía al que se parecía de joven) ha logrado llegar tan lejos?

Justo enfrente del Boston Garden, la mítica casa de los Celtics, vivía el joven Mike. Su padre John era un electricista. Enseñó a su hijo la humildad, lealtad y la necesidad de hacer las cosas correctas. A los doce años logró su primer trabajo en el baloncesto: llevar el marcador de la Liga de Verano de Hill Park. Aquello era como la NBA para él.

Años después, durante un verano en Suffolk, donde había encontrado un hueco como utilero mientras estudiaba, Procopio consiguió un trabajo en el Nike All-American camp. Los jugadores eran de instituto, y otros de la universidad eran sus consejeros. Mientras los jóvenes estaban ocupados, los de la universidad se unían para realizar ejercicios individuales de habilidades. Conviviendo con aquellos chicos fue cuando tomó la decisión: quería ganarse la vida enseñando a muchachos como aquellos.

Una vez graduado, Procopio se propuso ser entrenador del equipo de reservas en Kentucky. Lo intentó, pero no consiguió el trabajo en el equipo entrenado por Rick Pitino. Así que obtuvo el mismo puesto pero de nuevo en Suffolk y con el equipo junior. En 2002 logró entrar en los Boston Celtics, mezclando las funciones de recadero y scout. Durante todo el tiempo, Procopio continuó trabajando en campamentos de verano, especialmente uno en el gimnasio de Tim Grover en Chicago. En 2006 Paul Pierce estaba levantando pesas con Grover cuando apareció Procopio, y ambos acordaron encontrarse después para un entrenamiento en la pista. Grover fue testigo de esa sesión y después se acercó a Mike. Le ofreció un trabajo fijo y lo aceptó. Sin embargo, la NBA no le permitió tener un trabajo con una franquicia NBA y otro con un gimnasio privado al que acudían muchos jugadores de otros equipos, así que, con mucho dolor, tuvo que dejar los Celtics.

Como suele suceder cuando trabajas incansablemente en algo, su sudor mereció la pena. Como la mañana de verano en 2008 en la que pasó dos horas y media solo en el gimnasio con Kobe Bryant, cliente de Grover. A pesar de un buen entrenamiento, ambos fueron por caminos separados. Pero en febrero de 2009, cuando Michael Lewis publicó un artículo en The New York Times Magazine en el que nombraba a Shane Battier el “Kobe-stopper”, Bryant le dijo a Grover que tenía que responder a eso en su siguiente partido contra Battier, y que quería “la ayuda de Sweetchuck”. Procopio descubrió que el problema no era Battier, sino el propio Bryant. Battier siempre daba la salida a Kobe hacia Yao Ming, retando a Bryant a lanzar sobre el pívot de 2’28. Y él caía en la trampa muy frecuentemente. Decirle a Bryant que estaba tomando demasiados lanzamientos, y muchos estúpidos, fue difícil, pero Procopio lo hizo.

Procopio estaba visitando a Kevin McHale en Minnesota, donde entrenaba a los Timberwolves, y se escapó de una reunión de equipo para ver cómo Bryant anotaba 14 de sus 23 lanzamientos para meter 37 puntos ante Battier. Así fue como empezó a trabajar con Kobe, y con ello pasó a ser cada vez más conocido.

En marzo de 2013, estando a punto de ver rota una racha de muchos años en Playoffs, los Mavericks se dispusieron a mejorar su trabajo de desarrollo de jugadores, y la relación de Rick Carlisle y Donnie Nelson con Danny Ainge y Kevin McHale los llevó hasta Procopio. Él hizo la maleta para una semana. Hace ya más de cinco años de aquello.

“Soy como la fusión de Forrest Gump y Louie De Palma de ‘Taxi’,” dijo Procopio a Jaime Aron. “Un listillo, que parece como un mutante, y alguien que ha hecho todas estas cosas emocionantes que probablemente no debería haber hecho. Así me veo a mí mismo.”

En muchas ocasiones los fans solo nos fijamos en los protagonistas más evidentes de los éxitos deportivos: los jugadores y los entrenadores se llevan, merecidamente, casi todo el mérito. Algunos van más allá y se fijan también en los asistentes. No es casualidad que Rick Carlisle hiciera su mejor trabajo en 2011 rodeado de Dwane Casey y Terry Stotts, o los grandes equipos de asistentes que tienen otros entrenadores campeones cono Steve Kerr y Gregg Popovich. Pero incluso detrás de ellos podemos seguir encontrando personas que aportan su granito de arena al éxito desde las sombras.

God Shammgod y Mike Procopio son dos de los Dallas Mavericks más importantes de los que menos se habla, y sus historias también son remarcables. Representan a todo un conjunto de personas más o menos anónimas que trabaja a destajo por el bien de los jugadores y de la organización, una labor que entra en una de sus fases más importantes ahora que se acerca el verano. Y, aunque sea en la sombra, su trabajo es tan importante para el presente y futuro de la franquicia como el que hacen otros bajo los focos.