Utah Jazz: Team gives at-risk children 'once-in-a-lifetime' day

Published: Saturday, Oct. 27 2012 9:00 p.m. MDT

Utah Jazz point guard Mo Williams, right, leads a cheer during a basketball clinic for at-risk youths from the U.S. Dream Academy on Wednesday.

Ben Brewer, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Hours after their morning workout, Mo Williams and Derrick Favors returned to the Utah Jazz's practice facility to spend time with a group of kids.

What they did won't show up on a stats sheet. It won't help the Jazz have a better season.

Even better, however, their participation could help positively shape young lives.

As part of the NBA Cares social initiative, the Jazz organization hosted 38 at-risk children from the Glendale-based U.S. Dream Academy for a couple hours Wednesday afternoon.

Make that a couple of loud, fun-filled and educational hours.

From the moment an orange bus dropped off the exuberant 7-to-14-year-olds, Zions Bank Basketball Center was popping and hopping.

Giggles, groans and group cheers, depending on the activity, filled the facility during the special event for these vulnerable youth involved with an after-school program that helps those who've had a close family member incarcerated or who have learning challenges.

Having fun while learning a thing or two was the theme on this afternoon.

What started with a Silly String-and-confetti-streamers attack by the Jazz Bear also included inspirational speeches from coach Tyrone Corbin and general manager Dennis Lindsey; hands-on drills, stretching, dribbling, defense and shooting exercises with players and staff members; tours of the locker room and team theater; a Papa John's pizza party; and lots and lots of push-ups.

For Williams, this felt personal.

The Jazz point guard is a father of four children (soon to be five) and runs camps in Mississippi, which might explain why he was so patient in dribbling drills while helping kids keep their shoes tied, teaching them to use the proper hand ("Your other left," he joked on occasion) and yelling "Go! Go! Go!" even while the ball bounced awkwardly.

Williams loves helping kids have fun — "I'm watching you," he teasingly told the group's fastest push-up doer — but he's also a self-proclaimed "disciplinarian." He enjoys teaching kids how to focus, listen, understand and be disciplined at "as early an age as possible."

Making this extra personal, the 29-year-old has a close uncle and two cousins who've been in and out of trouble with the law for years.

"My Uncle Ben, he was given 27 years when I was 16 years old," Williams said. "He's been incarcerated since then — never got a chance to watch an NBA game of mine."

The cousins he used to have sleepovers with have been in and out of jail since they were young teenagers.

Williams knows how hard that is on families and kids. The returned Jazz player didn't hesitate to volunteer for this clinic. Anything to help.

"(I'm) letting them know that they still have an opportunity to be something in life," Williams explained. "Just because they have that (incarcerated relative) in their family — if it's a mother, father, uncle, cousin, whatever family member it is — it shouldn’t hold you back from your dream or what you want to do and what you want to become."

The 21-year-old Favors, who still seems like a mild-mannered kid off the court, hangs out with his younger brother, a little nephew and small cousins whenever he's in Atlanta. He gets a kick out of interacting with kids, so this was just another opportunity — like his week-long Junior Jazz tour this summer — to do just that.

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