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The scent of fresh paint hung in the air Tuesday for the dedication of the new North Commons Recreation Center in north Minneapolis, a showcase project of the 2019 Minneapolis Final Four Local Organizing Committee.

The formerly scruffy basketball facility is now shiny and new — from the pristine court to the painted mural on the wall that reads: attitude, hard work, respect, encouragement, success. On Tuesday, the new sound system played Motown tunes as guests arrived for the ceremonial ribbon-cutting.

The project includes the new court, rims, backboards, scoreboards and sound system, as well as refurbished computer labs, study rooms and arts areas.

Devean George, a Minneapolis native who played in the NBA for 11 seasons after playing at Augsburg University, talked of the rec center being both a hub and a haven for kids with busy parents.

George, 41, now a businessman, has returned to the community.

He said when he was young, he was small and didn't make the prestigious teams, but he would come back to this gym and work hard. He learned the importance of putting in hard work, he told kids seated on the floor in the front row of the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Then one year he grew and his determination paid off. It's a lesson he still uses.

"If I fail, I'm coming back. If I fail again, I'm coming back stronger," he said, adding that the kids also need to stay in school. "I can't run and jump anymore, but I got an education. It's always going to be there with me."

The project, a joint effort by Dove Men Care, Target and the NCAA, is part of the annual "community engagement" rehabilitation projects in cities playing host to the Final Four.

A couple hundred community leaders and kids attended the event, at which several speakers gave testimony to the importance of the community center.

Kate Mortenson, the Organizing Committee CEO, led the festivities, calling the work a "transformative, refurbishment of this space."

Minneapolis Parks Superintendent Al Bangoura noted that the first park in the city to have a basketball hoop was North Commons in 1908.

"This is a place where people have always come to celebrate," he said.

North Commons Park offers athletic fields and courts, a playground and woodsy areas in the heart of north Minneapolis. Area residents have long viewed the park as a key amenity to keep and woo young families to the neighborhood.

Mayor Jacob Frey gave high-fives to all the kids in the front row as he headed to the podium. "North Minneapolis is deserving of a primo facility. North Minneapolis is deserving of excellence," he said, adding that's what was delivered.

The NCAA Final Four is the final weekend of March Madness when the four remaining teams will face off in the one-and-out tournament that began with 68 men's basketball teams.

The games will be played Saturday and Monday. The festivities begin Friday with a free open house at U.S. Bank Stadium featuring open practices by the four teams.

Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747 Twitter: @rochelleolson