Ten-year-old Ferious Nieves held a basketball under his arm Tuesday while he looked up at 6-foot-8 retired NBA star Spencer Haywood, waiting patiently for his autograph.
"It was fun," said Nieves, the son of Tech. Sgt. Jason Nieves, and one of 100 children of Nellis airmen who participated in the USA Basketball Hoops for Troops clinic at the base's 3-month-old Warrior Fitness Center.
"We learned how to dribble, shoot and rebound," the youngster said, adding that his favorite part was "shooting," although Haywood, overhearing the conversation said the "rebound" part was most important.
Legendary NBA coach Lenny Wilkens led the group of stars who ran the boys and girls through drills after they broke up into four groups and rotated among half-court stations.
The Hoops for Troops program "shows young people we have a lot of interest in them," said Wilkens, a nine-time NBA All-Star as a player and a Hall of Fame coach with 1,332 regular season wins, second only to Don Nelson.
"We show them that any one of them can achieve what they want. Anytime you can put some time on a military base and let the troops know we approve of what they got it's great," said Wilkens, who was an Army first lieutenant who served at Fort Lee, Va., after completing ROTC and graduating from Providence College in 1960.
"They can be anybody they want to be," he said, adding that "a lot of them" could become NBA prospects.
NBA legends Chris Mullin and Gary Payton and former WNBA star Teresa Edwards joined Haywood and Wilkens, who coached Team USA in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.
Former New York Knicks star Jerome Williams led the kids in exercises making them shout "defense" as their answer to his question, "What do you want to play?" And when he said, "work," they shouted "hard."
At the end of the hourlong clinic, he gathered them in the center of the gym and told them, "It's an honor for us to be here."
Mullin said coming to Nellis while they were in Las Vegas for Team USA training was "a great experience."
"It's amazing what these airmen will do day in and day out behind the scenes for our country," Mullin said.
"Sometimes we get a distorted view about what people view as pressure," said Mullin, a Hall of Famer who retired in 2000 and later served as general manager of the Golden State Warriors.
"Shooting a buzzer shot, that's not pressure," he said. "Fighting wars, that's real pressure. We can't do enough to thank them."
Contact reporter Keith Rogers at email@example.com or 702-383-0308.