It didn't take long for Jason Kidd to endear himself to the young community of his new surroundings, namely the New Jersey Nets.
The NBA All-Star point guard, traded to the Nets last month for Stephon Marbury, made his first New Jersey appearance a memorable one last Monday morning, conducting a clinic for approximately 400 youngsters - 100 of which were Hudson County residents - at the Nets' Champion Center training facility in East Rutherford.
The youngsters, including 80 kids from the Jersey City Boys and Girls Club and 20 from Guttenberg Recreation, were treated to an hour of basketball fundamentals, coordinated by Nets' assistant coach Mike O'Koren, a Jersey City native, and highlighted by the appearance of the popular All-Star Kidd.
The clinic, called "Kidd for Kids," is the first of many community-related activities that the Nets have planned for their new superstar.
Kidd, who is still shopping for a new home in the New Jersey area for his pregnant wife and infant son, took the time to address the youngsters and send home a poignant message.
"I hope everyone here is preparing for school," Kidd told the campers. "That's the big thing. I know everyone here would like to be a pro basketball player, but you have to understand that it might not happen. It's fine to dream, but you have to make sure you go to school. You also should listen to your parents, because they worry that you may be going down the wrong road."
Kidd said after the camp that he really enjoyed taking the time out of his hectic schedule to address the youngsters of his new community.
"I think it shows that the Nets really want to be involved in the community," Kidd said. "Basketball is a kid's game and we should want to get as many kids involved. I sat [in the same spot they're in] once, and I want them to dream. I always like to work with kids any time I get. Hopefully, I can do more of these events while I'm here."
Kidd said that he participated in similar camps with the Golden State Warriors when he was a youngster growing up in the San Francisco-Oakland area.
"I had a chance to meet Purvis Short and Joe Barry Carroll when they were with the Warriors," Kidd said. "I thought they were so huge back then, almost larger than life. I knew then that playing basketball was something that I wanted to do, so I hope that I had that same kind of influence on these kids. Maybe I can help to fulfill other kids' dreams."
O'Koren, who was a standout player at Hudson Catholic, then the University of North Carolina, before moving on to a career in the NBA with the Nets as a player, announcer and coach, was happy that there were so many Hudson County kids present at the camp.
"I think it's the best," O'Koren said. "These kids come from the same background that I came from. So anytime that we can give back to the community and help kids from Hudson County, I'm all for it. It was a lot of fun to see these kids out here, especially the ones from Jersey City, which has always been my home. My mother still lives there. I'm happy to see kids from the Boys Club here. I hope we can do things like this more often."
Many of the youngsters present were aware of who Jason Kidd was - but had little idea of O'Koren's impressive past in their own hometown.
Still, they were very happy to be invited to participate in the clinic - and the chance to meet great basketball players and coaches. Each group posed for pictures with Kidd, Nets' head coach Byron Scott and the coaching staff.
"It's definitely an inspiration to me, knowing Coach O'Koren is from Jersey City and he made it," said 14-year-old Levar Tilly of Jersey City. "It was a fun day for me, meeting Jason Kidd. I like the way he plays."
"It was a real fun day for all of us," 12-year-old Morris Funchess said.
"I finally got the chance to see a pro player," 11-year-old Derrick Key said. "It's important to me, because I want to be a pro basketball player when I grow up."
So did many in attendance, but Kidd and O'Koren made sure that the message was clear - school before basketball.
And after all, it's back to school for all of those in attendance next month. - Jim Hague