DALLAS — Considering the Trail Blazers had a long flight to Dallas on Thursday to begin their five-game trip, coach Terry Stotts decided the day would be for the players to decide what they did, and how hard they did it.
Inside the team, these are called “maintenance days,” and most players use them to rejuvenate their bodies. Some get massages, or treatment on their bumps, bruises and pulls. And some will get some shots up at a leisurely pace.
But Thursday turned out to be no ordinary maintenance day for the Blazers.
Virtually every Blazers player was engaged in competition on the court, even thepreviously injured Thomas Robinson. On one side it was 4-on-4. The other side 3-on-3.
“The environment,’’ Stotts said, “was terrific.’’
There was a reason: For the second time this season, the Blazers held their practice in Dallas at the Mo Williams Academy, an 18,000-square foot facility built two years ago by Blazers guard Mo Williams.
The academy is where five youth teams ranging from fourth graders to juniors in high school are mentored by counselors about not only basketball skills, but life skills.
“It’s something I have the power to do, as far as reaching out to kids, and I just want to take advantage of it,’’ Williams said. “It’s something that inspires me, something that is a passion.’’
The Blazers must have felt that inspiration and passion when they arrived at the facility, because what happened took both Stotts and Williams by surprise.
“It was funny, because usually when we come into town on the plane, you might get five, six guys who really play or workout,’’ Williams said. “You will get a lot of guys who will kind of get treatment, massages, probably not even put on their gym shoes. But the whole team worked out. We had 4-on- 4 at one end, 3-on 3 on the other end. Everybody was playing. I was sitting yesterday thinking afterward: ‘Wow.’ I mean nobody expected it. It’s not like we talked about it before hand. It was pretty nice. It made me feel good. Like a proud parent.’’
Added Stotts: “Both times we’ve had a practice there, it’s different than going to a sterile arena. This is a gym where guys go to in the summer, and the fact that Mo owns it, I think brings it a little more home. It brings the team together a little bit more.’’
The Mo Williams Academy in Dallas is one of two programs Williams coordinates. For the past six years he has also run the Mississippi Skills and Drills Academy in his hometown of Jackson, Miss., which consists of summer weekend programs that teach resume writing, interview skills, money management tips and Dinner Etiquette 101, as well as basketball skills classes that in the past have included teachers Al Jefferson and Monta Ellis.
“We even teach them how to dress,’’ Williams said with a smile. “We try to give them all the tools they need to succeed. It’s workshops all day long, and the first day, they don’t even see the basketball court.’’
The Dallas academy is more basketball focused and Williams equates it to a mentorship program.
“It’s basically your one-stop-shop,’’ Williams said. “They come to us and they get training, skills work, the exposure and mentorship all in one.’’
He says his teams the past two years have either won, or been in the title game, at some prestigious tournaments like the Great American Shootout in Dallas and the Fab 48 in Las Vegas.
“We try to get these kids and teach them the importance of becoming a better kid as well as a better basketball player,’’ Williams said.
In the process, judging from Thursday’s impromptu Blazers workout, he just might have helped the Blazers become a better team.