LaRon Cephas has a powerful message on the wall above his desk at the Annapolis Boys and Girls Club: a framed red Maryland basketball jersey emblazoned with the number 21.
The memento from the 6-foot-7 forward's career at College Park quickly catches children's attention."
It shows that he went somewhere in his life," said Xavier Beamon, a 12-year-old student at Bates Middle School. "Kids see that they can, too."
Cephas, hired in August as the first athletic director for the club at its new home in Wiley E. Bates Heritage Park, is trying to build a sports program and relationships in the community.
He will be starting leagues and activities in basketball, soccer, lacrosse, baseball and water sports, all in the hopes of helping children understand the importance of making good choices.
"It's a little different than when I was growing up," Cephas said. "A lot of these kids are put in situations that make them grow up a lot faster. You're going to make mistakes, but it's up to us to pretty much correct their mistakes."
Cephas, 29, grew up in Wilmington, Del., and is one of three children. Outgoing and popular, he was voted "best smile" at the Sanford School in Hockessin, Del., and was a first-team, all-state pick as a senior.
At Maryland, he was a backup forward throughout his career, including the 2000-2001 season when Maryland made its first trip to the Final Four.
He saw limited time on the court, playing in 14 games that year and averaging just 1.9 points, but his teammates looked up to him, said Mark Fratto, formerly the assistant director of athletic media relations.
"He was one of those guys that the younger players looked to," said Fratto, now the associate athletic director for communications at St. John's University. "LaRon was definitely one of the leaders of the team, even though he wasn't one of the guys who played a ton of minutes. I think that's a testament to his personality."
Cephas answers questions from children on a daily basis about what it was like to go to the Final Four, and he enjoys it.
"It's helping me a lot here," Cephas said. "If a kid doesn't know who I am, and they find out who I am, it adds to my sincerity."
Cephas kept his basketball career going overseas. After graduating with a degree in communications, he played for 3 1/2 years in Switzerland, Germany and Luxembourg.
He then decided to return to Delaware and worked for a construction company before taking this job at the end of last summer.
"We're just really lucky that LaRon chose to come here to work," said Carole Alexander, the club's director of development.
"He walked in as a superstar in everyone's eyes because he'd played in the Final Four, and it's not just his height but who he is," she said. "It's not just his physical stature but his dedication to the kids and his dedication to athletics."
Alexander likes how Cephas grasps that the games are just one part of a child's life. He makes them show him his grades weekly and when report cards come out, and he has set up a mentoring and tutoring system that keeps grades high on the priority list.
The club has about 150 children who play basketball in various age groups this winter. Cephas said he thinks it could take about three years to develop programs. He would love to see about 350 to 400 children there regularly.
For now, Cephas is getting used to working with the children. He is familiar with this type of work, having coached at basketball camps several times.
"It's pretty much what I've been doing my whole life," said the Cape St. Claire resident. "You have to teach kids about life and sportsmanship ... how to learn and how to grow."