Thunder Inspires Students With Mentoring Session

by Jimmy Do |

On the eve of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the humming of a late afternoon lunch gathering grinded to a halt when Thunder teammates Terrance Ferguson and Dakari Johnson entered the room.

Clad in blue tees emblazoned with the Thunder Cares wordmark on the chest, the duo took their seats at the front of the room as part of a panel for a mentoring session with middle school students from the OKC Boys Institute on Sunday inside the Thunder Corporate offices at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

When Ferguson and Johnson fielded questions, they shared light-hearted anecdotes of life as a Thunder rookie scrambling around town to fulfill food orders from teammates and recounted the exhilaration of having their name called in the NBA Draft. These stories gave hoop dreamers a glimpse of what NBA life was like.

However, Ferguson and Johnson underscored that the progress made in their respective basketball journeys came with a few caveats along the way.

A much younger Ferguson saw his mother balancing two jobs while raising him and his two siblings to keep the household afloat. As soon as Ferguson learned his budding basketball abilities had a chance to upend his mother’s hardships, he leaned on his support system of family and coaches to maintain his focus.

He shunned friends and lifestyles that ran counter to his goals of making improvements on the court and in the classroom. Thus, his advice to the kids centered on removing influences and habits that inhibited individual growth.

“In life you’re going to go through things. That’s life period,” said Ferguson. “If you have that information, you’re going to be a better person and grow up with it.”

After graduating high school, Ferguson embarked on a pro career that took him from Australia last year to his current rookie campaign with the Thunder.

Johnson’s mother worked as a guidance counselor in Brooklyn while raising her two children. However, the neighborhood they lived in was precarious enough to force the family to head south to the Bluegrass State where Johnson would play for the University of Kentucky.

But before becoming a Wildcat, Johnson was “on his books” during his high school years. His message prioritized academics and reaching out to teachers and mentors that helped meet those ends.

“We both grew up in different paths. It wasn’t easy for us,” said Johnson. “Sharing the experience and giving them knowledge was great.”

Thunder broadcaster Michael Cage delivered his remarks with a Sunday sermon-like intensity that drew affirming, “Amens!” from the audience. He cited his education allowed him to have a career after 16 years of playing in the NBA.

Thunder staffers on the panel talked about their personal hoop dreams recalling a time when they both would practice their autographs as kids before forging their path to emphasize the role of education in their careers.

“One key mission with our guys is to help them think about different careers other than sports and not dropping out of school,” said Ken Lawson, program director of the Alpha Boys Institute.

Giving back to the youth. The Thunder hosted a Career Day at the office for the OKC Boys Institute as part of the MLK holiday celebration. Photo by Zach Beeker | OKC Thunder

Rookie wisdom. Teammates Johnson and Ferguson headline the Q&A session fielding questions from students. Photo by Zach Beeker | OKC Thunder

Thunder Cares. Photo by Zach Beeker | OKC Thunder

Watch: Thunder Hosts Mentoring Session With OKC Boys Institute


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