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.”