Avery Johnson, a former NBA player and coach and now an ESPN analyst, was in Lexington this week to motivate middle school students with some rules for success.
Johnson visits schools on behalf of Just Say YES (Youth Equipped to Succeed), a Texas-based nonprofit organization that brings motivational programs and speakers to schools across the nation.
Kenny Troutt, owner of WinStar Farm and Kentucky Derby horse Vinceremos, underwrote the cost of Johnson's speech to offer a positive influence on kids as Troutt's way of giving back to the community during Derby week.
On Wednesday, Johnson told Beaumont Middle School students that in order to be successful they have to be "coachable" and listen to teachers and other adults. He told them they should have "the right circle of friends" who don't get them in trouble, and they should have the drive to compete. And he warned them of the heavy price they would pay if they took illegal drugs.
"Keep listening, keep paying attention and stay on the right track," he told the students.
Johnson was also scheduled to speak at East Jessamine High School in Nicholasville on Wednesday.
Johnson's career included an NBA championship with the San Antonio Spurs. He became the 75th player in NBA history to play over 1,000 career games. While coaching the Dallas Mavericks, Johnson led the team to their first NBA finals appearance and received the NBA Coach of the Year Award in 2006.
Johnson told the students that he achieved success despite growing up in a public housing project in New Orleans.
Later, Johnson issued a statement saying, "On behalf of Just Say YES, Winstar Farm and Fellowship of Christian Athletes it is a thrill for me to be here during Kentucky Derby week helping kids.
"Kids today have so much potential and we want them to say yes to their dreams and goals and stay away from destructive choices and bad behavior."
Johnson's speech, said Beaumont Principal Kate McAnelly, "reinforced how important it is to care, compete, pick the right circle of friends."
"It was wonderful to see him reinforce what we want instilled in our children, whether we are a parent, teacher or a private citizen. It was very motivating."
Beaumont student Nathan Wilson called the event "inspirational."
In an interview after the speech, Johnson said that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver's lifetime ban on Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling for making racist comments was an "appropriate decision."
Johnson told the Herald-Leader: "Adam Silver really did a great job of providing leadership and now it's over and we can get back to the NBA playoffs."
Valarie Honeycutt Spears: (859) 231-3409. Twitter:@vhspears