NBA star Dennis Smith Jr. was scheduled to make an in-person appearance at Lucile Souders Elementary School Friday to promote reading.
Weather delayed his scheduled flight, but his virtual appearance — through a Zoom call — was enough to motivate 3rd graders at the school to try to earn a trip to see him play in person, in an Oct. 30 game between his Brooklyn Nets and Smith’s former team, the Charlotte Hornets.
All they have to do is “read a ton of books.”
Chickia West, Souders’ principal, introduced Smith to Souders students and teachers Friday morning. Even though he wasn’t there in person, the visit was a bit of a homecoming for the 25-year-old: Smith, a Fayetteville native, attended Souders as a youngster before graduating from Trinity Christian School in 2016. He played one season at N.C. State — where he was ACC Freshman of the Year and All-ACC Second Team — before declaring for the 2017 NBA Draft, where he was taken ninth overall by the Dallas Mavericks.
Smith most recently played for the Charlotte Hornets in the 2022-23 season, averaging 8.8 points in 54 games while ranking third in the league in steals per game (1.4) among players to play 26.0 or fewer minutes per game,
He signed a free-agent contract with the Nets in July.
“Lucile Souders was Dennis’ elementary school when he was growing up, and he actually visited us last year,” West said. “He was very interested in the pursuit of helping kids read more and came up with this project to promote that.”
“It was my dream since I was your age to play basketball professionally,” Smith told the third-graders. “But for me to achieve that dream I had to do well in school and read.”
Smith helped promote the “Readers 4 Leaders” project, sponsored by the Two-Six Project, a nonprofit organization that serves as an incubator for initiatives, scholarships, educational programs, sports and creative activities based in Fayetteville. Two-Six Project provides exposure opportunities for young leaders from marginalized communities through intentional programming and scholarship.
His visit, and remarks, were designed to inspire students to explore books from various genres and find fulfillment in independent reading
Smith encouraged students to devote themselves to reading and log each book they read in journals provided to them as part of the project. Souders students are competing with students from Howard Hall Elementary for the chance to see Smith play in Charlotte and have a pizza party; the game is Oct. 30.
In his remarks, Smith also talked about the three Rs: Responsible, Respectful, Read. Students received the reading journals and “Readers 4 Leaders” T-shirts.
“Reading is super important,” Smith told the students. “And always follow your dreams.”