Saturday, July 14, 2012 | 2:05 a.m.
When this youth basketball game became a highly contested affair late in the fourth quarter Thursday, the 8- and 9-year-old girls in the Henderson recreation league weren’t alone in sharing in the excitement.
That’s because members of the UNLV women’s basketball team made their annual appearance at the Downtown Recreation Center to visit during both of the league’s under-10 games. Not only did the college players sit on the bench and give advice during timeouts, they cheered and encouraged the children in showing them one of the true meanings of sports: teamwork.
“I was a YMCA kid growing up, so this means a lot to me,” said Kelli Thompson, a rising senior at UNLV who is one of the team’s most popular players. “Just go hard and have fun. You are here playing in the rec to make friends, but also understand you are here to get better and improve yourself.”
When the Blue Jays pulled ahead of the ‘Lil Lady Rebels with about two minutes to play, the college players sat at the edge of their seats in anticipation of the next play and actively shouted words of encouragement. It was as if they were playing the game.
The ‘Lil Lady Rebels topped the Blue Jays 8-7, but both teams felt like winners on this night. They took photos with the UNLV players after the game, cherishing the moment of being alongside them.
“I looked back when I was talking (during a timeout) and most of the girls were more focused on (the UNLV players),” said Alan Williams, the Blue Jays’ coach.
This is the second straight summer the UNLV team has attended a Henderson recreation game. It’s a win-win for the college program, giving them a chance to be active members of the community and recruiting new fans for their games next winter.
The visit was kept secret to the children until the UNLV team arrived.
“This is the least we can do,” said Brezya Rhodes, the UNLV's director of basketball operations, who helped facilitate the visit. “All of our athletes at some point were at this level. We love to give back to the community that supports us.”
The UNLV players — Alana Cesarz, Amie Callaway, Jehiah Cook, Rejane Verin, Jazzmeen Williams and Aley Rohde — each could surely remember a day when they initially took up the sport. The first game Thursday featured teams with almost the same name (the Rock Starz against the Rock Stars), and one team scored just two points, while the score of the second game was just 2-1 at halftime.
Still, everyone had a good time — especially the UNLV players.
“I remember older girls coming to watch me play when I was their age,” Thompson said.
Following the game, the children grabbed their post-game juice box and snack, then posed for photos and video with the UNLV players. It was a night they soon won’t forget.
“This is where dreams come true for (the children),” said Phil Thompson, whose daughter, Emma, plays on the ‘Lil Lady Rebels. “Seeing the girls out there makes it real for them. It’s tangible and something they can strive for.”