With a list of accomplishments as long as the right arm that used to reach high above the rim, basketball legend Julius Erving could spend his time gazing back at the good old days.

He swears that's not his style.

"I get up every day and say, 'This could be the best day of my life,' " Erving told a gathering of students on Thursday at Timber Creek.

The 66-year-old Erving's visit to the school in Erial, Camden County, was arranged by Timber Creek assistant principal Garry Saunders, who has been friendly with the sports superstar since they were teenagers in Roosevelt, N.Y.

Erving, who lives in Atlanta, was in the area to attend Wednesday night's 76ers game and also visited the 76ers' practice facility in Camden on Thursday.

Clad in jeans and button-down dress shirt, the gray-haired, gray-bearded Erving spoke for around 35 minutes to a few hundred students in the school's auditorium.

His talk was casual and off-the-cuff. His message: Keep moving forward. Keep looking forward.

"Be like the rabbit, always chasing that carrot," Erving. "Have fun, but don't make these the best days of your life."

Timber Creek junior basketball star Maurice Murray said Erving was "inspiring."

"He's the greatest of all time in my eyes," Murray said. "And even with everything he's done, he says he tries to make sure his best days are always ahead of him. That's an inspirational message."

Timber Creek senior football stars Ezrah Archie and Tony Brown posed for pictures with Erving.

"He's an icon," Archie said. "I listened to everything he said. I couldn't believe how humble he is after everything that he's done."

Said Brown: "My dad [also named Tony Brown] is a huge Dr. J fan. He's always talking about how great he was."

Erving said Saunders' older brother, Leon, was "my best friend" and even beat him once in a game of one-on-one.

"Of course, we played 500 times," Erving said.

Leon Saunders has been credited by Erving with creating his nickname.

"My brother was a good player, but he would call a lot of fouls," in playground games, Garry Saunders said. "Julius started calling him 'The Professor' because he was such a stickler for the rule.

"My brother said, 'If I'm The Professor, you're 'The Doctor,' and it stuck.' "

Erving told the students he hoped they would leave his talk with "higher self-esteem" and greater awareness of the support around them.

"You have so many people that care about you," Erving told the students. "It all starts every day when you wake up. You have to realize there might be some that have more than you, but there are a lot of people who have less than you.

"Look around you. There are people here who care about you, that want to see you succeed."

Saunders was two years behind his brother and Erving in high school.

"I was in awe of how he carried himself, even in high school," Saunders said of Erving. "He knew he was going to be something."

@PhilAnastasia

jerseysidesports