Youngsters from the YMCA were in for a shock as basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal and three college basketball stars — Marvin Bagley III, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Mikal Bridges, all expected to be top 10 pick selections in this week’s NBA draft — surprised the group by making an appearance at the Barclays Center’s practice court.
The event, held on Friday, June 15, was sponsored by JCPenney. Dozens of YMCA members cheered as O’Neal walked through the doors with the three draft picks, offering them advice on how to succeed not just in basketball, but in the classroom and life.
After a question-and-answer session, guests were fitted for suits and left with custom pieces from JCPenney, followed by some basketball drills observed by the pros.
Senior Executive Director of the YMCA of Greater New York Cedric Dew thought the kids got a lot out of the experience, especially meeting O’Neal, a National Basketball Hall of Famer and five-time NBA champion.
“When young people meet their heroes, then they’re not untouchable or a figment of their imagination or something inside of a screen,” he explained. “They’re people and the kids can realize they can aspire to be like them. Shaquille O’Neal is a great role model, from the basketball side and the business side, as well as being educated and having a doctoral degree. I think those are important attributes that we want to deliver with the YMCA, focusing on making sure that young people are well rounded, in the spirit, mind and body.”
For student Sekou Coulibaly, the experience was an exciting one. “It was mind blowing,” he said. “I still don’t know what to say. They are really cool people. I understand how they got to be where they want to be.”
The future NBA players were also thrilled to be a part of the festivities and share some of their knowledge.
“It means a lot to be able to come back and give any type of advice that I may have gotten in the past back to them so they can remember it,” said Bagley. “It’s always good to come back and do stuff like this. I was excited about it.”
He also gave the kids some advice. “Just work hard,” added the former Duke Blue Devils star. “Shaq mentioned listening to your parents and just doing whatever you can to get better. Always have drive to do whatever you’re doing. That’s something that I learned and I was happy to share with everyone out there.”
“Some of these kids are close to our age so we are learning about what they’ve done in their lives and they’re learning about stuff that we do and it’s a fun experience,” Jackson, the Michigan State Spartans product, said. “My advice is to make sure to stay humble, and to stay motivated and focused. Understand that basketball isn’t everything. You got to be a good person as well. That’s the big thing. You don’t just want to be a basketball player. You want to be a good person. Treat your mom with respect and make sure you do all the little things.”
Bridges, who helped lead the Villanova Wildcats to win the 20018 NCAA championship, revealed who his role model is.
“The biggest person who helped me was my mom,” he said. “She helped me so much throughout my life. She was a mentor. Life is more than just basketball. It’s about you being a better person, which helped me out in my life.”