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As bulldozers rumbled in the background at the Municipal Justice Center late Friday morning laying the needed groundwork for an expanded parking lot, Gene Banks was doing similar work with a group of Lancaster youth at nearby Municipal Park.
Banks, the former Duke basketball All-American and NBA star, was helping to mold young lives with the tools of experience and words of wisdom.
His delivery wasn’t as loud as the heavy equipment, but his message resounded with the needed motivation to help those youngsters climb personal mountains in the future.
An assistant coach with the NBA’s Washington Wizards, Banks was speaking as part of the Pan-Hellenic Council’s second annual Greek Week to boost area youth through a host of community events.
Banks, who hasn’t played in a pro basketball game since 1992, made his share of key points with his young audience of middle school age students.
Banks, a close friend of Lancaster native Carla Williams Boyd and her mother Mattie Williams who drew him here, discussed the game of life. His attire was casual, an expected Duke cap and Blue Devils T-shirt, but he encouraged them to grasp for the big time in whatever route they opted to follow.
He encouraged the youngsters to have dreams and hold on to those dreams no matter what.
“Everybody has a gift,” Banks said. “Remember your dreams and come out with a plan.”
Banks grew up in West Philadelphia, living in the same block as noted actor Will Smith, better known as the “Fresh Prince of L.A.”
“He always wanted to be a rapper,” Banks said. “He had that dream.
“Everything I dreamed of came through for me,” he said. “Duke University is one of the greatest, strongest basketball programs in the country and I thank God to be a part of it. I’ve been blessed.”
Banks, in his high school days, was highly recruited as the three-time prep All-American drew the likes of national powers Duke, North Carolina, Michigan, Notre Dame, UCLA and N.C. State to his home.
“We were in the lower income and my mother didn’t have the money to send me to Duke, but I had good grades and the gift of basketball,” he said.
Banks said big dreams can also have some challenging nightmares.
“You’re going to have dreams, but there’s going to be adversity,” he noted. “You have a chance to do what you want to do, but you have to take steps.”
He said those simple steps can lead to extraordinary results.
“It’s about how you treat people,” Banks said. “You have to be respectful, resilient and try hard. You have to practice and work. Have faith and belief.”
Banks noted his job as a Wizards’ assistant on basketball’s biggest stage is one he loves.
“I’ve coached at every level and this is the highest,” he said. “The perks are great, but the work is excruciating. It’s a constant grind. Sometimes, you get to bed by 2 or 2:30 a.m. after watching film for hours and you’re back up at 4 or 4:30 a.m.”
Earlier in his life, Banks lost his wife, Isabelle, to Multiple Sclerosis. At the time, his three daughters, now in their mid-20s, were elementary age students.
It’s how you handle adversity.
“Be loving, caring and respectful and it all comes back,” Banks said.
Banks knows the game on and off the court. There will be turnovers and rebounds.
“Don’t grow up too fast,” Banks said. “Enjoy your age while you can.”
Those youngsters had quite a week, capped by quality time with a basketball legend.
Most sought his autograph, and all were given a solid game plan to follow.