Luke Kornet, Svi Mykhailiuk, and Dalano Banton surprised a group of young Boston Celtics fans from the Boys & Girls Club during the Xfinity Surprise and Delight Event at the Auerbach Center on Thursday evening.
They made a grand entrance, emerging from a side room while the kids waited on the court. Excitement rang throughout the building, and Kornet made sure to keep his hand just out of reach so the kids would have to work for their high fives.
“It’s always nice to be able to give back to the community, especially with some kids who play basketball,” said Kornet. “I know when I was a kid, the opportunity to play with an NBA player is kind of beyond belief.”
The event began with some reaction time drills, as everyone split off into pairs and tested to see who could snatch a cone the fastest after some “head, shoulder, knees, and toes” directions were yelled out to keep them ready.
All three players were paired up with a fan, and they each took different approaches. Banton was relaxed, letting his partner win the drill more often than not. Kornet took a similar approach, mixing in a healthy dose of competition and fun. But Mykhailiuk was locked in. He was having fun, but he was trying to win the drill every single rep.
But even he had to let his partner get a couple of victories.
“It’s really exciting,” Mykhailiuk said of the event. “Because even me, going back to my childhood, being back in Ukraine, I always loved when players from pro teams come back to schools. These types of events. Definitely bring a lot of energy for the kids. I feel like it inspires them to try to reach their goals and dreams.”
After the drills, the three players each got split up, taking a team of fans with them to take part in a shooting competition. Mykhailiuk’s team won the first game, and the other two squads, including Banton and Kornet, had to run a lap.
The three teams played again, but this time around, Kornet’s squad took home the win. The kids on his team were draining threes, much to Kornet’s surprise. In a race to 10 buckets, he didn’t have to make a single one. This time around, Banton’s and Mykhailiuk’s teams had to run two laps.
“I thought it was just great coaching on my part,” Kornet said with a smile. “I feel like in the brief time, I was really able to just work on some little habits. It’s a small sample size, so we got to keep grinding day by day, but I think we saw a lot of progress.”
But while Kornet and Mykhailiuk were satisfied with the results, Banton was left on the outside looking in. Two drills, two losses, and three laps for Banton. An unfortunate result.
“He just can’t shoot,” Mykhailiuk said jokingly.
Their day with the Boys & Girls Club was a resounding success, and a nice break from their busy season. All three players are part of a bench unit eager for opportunity but stuck behind a wall of star power.
Mykhailiuk recently got his first taste of real opportunity, earning first-quarter minutes in the Celtics’ recent loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He only played 3:51 before returning to the bench, and he didn’t get back in the game.
Regardless, it was still a chance for him to run with the starters. Had he gotten open looks, maybe he could’ve sparked some offense, but he’ll certainly have more chances in the future.
“Just staying ready and waiting for an opportunity to come,” Mykhailiuk said. “But it felt great just to go in and get to play with the guys and just get the regular rotation minutes.”
Prior to his minutes against the Timberwolves, the bench got two chances to play in back-to-back Celtics blowouts over the Washington Wizards and Indiana Pacers. However, the two stints had varying results.
“We were up by a lot, and we really just didn’t do our best and put our best foot forward,” Kornet said of the Wizards game. “And I think especially for the groups to close games, it’s like every single minute that we have is just as precious as anyone that happened during the game. So, I feel like we all kind of just had a bad taste in our mouths from that and just realizing the things we really just need to lock in.”
The bench took over in the fourth quarter vs. the Wizards, and what was once a 31-point lead to begin the period ended in a mere 19-point win for the Celtics. Boston’s bench unit got outmatched by the Wizards’, and head coach Joe Mazzulla held a film session after the game to break it down.
Then in the next game, when Boston blew out Indiana, the deep bench guys brought their A-game.
“I think our next game, we were able to really kind of put it to use and just be a lot more intentional and focused and just kind of disciplined in what we’re trying to do on the court,” said Kornet. “It’s important to, like every member on the team, to be able to step in and fill the role of whatever that is.”
As the season rolls on, the bench guys will undoubtedly get more opportunities to show off their skills, and hopefully, they’re able to bring the same intensity they showed off at the Xfinity Surprise and Delight Event. If they do, watch out, NBA.