SYRACUSE -- It was difficult to tell who enjoyed the children's book more, Kyrylo Fesenko or the students hanging on his every word.
A few times, while he was reading "When I Grow Up," by Al Yankovic, to students at Syracuse Arts Academy on Wednesday afternoon, the Utah Jazz center was laughing so hard that he had to stop.
"Isn't this funny?" Fesenko asked, and then the crowd answered with a loud cheer. "I'm keeping this book."
The 7-foot-1 Ukraine native was the guest of honor at the school because Syracuse Arts Academy was one of 10 winners in the Be A Team Player -- Read contest.
During a 30-day period, beginning Jan. 1, students at the school read 1,231,783 minutes, which averages out to 1,605 minutes per student.
For Fesenko, who admits he loves reading so much he was reading a book on the ride up from Salt Lake City, it was not hard to get excited about spending an hour at the school.
"I really respect them for winning the reading competition," Fesenko said.
"I know how important it is for young kids, especially in elementary schools, to read. So if me coming here makes any kind of difference, then it means I did something right in my life."
He also offered insight into his life by answering questions from the 31 top readers in the school.
His favorite book?
"'The Wizard of Oz,'" Fesenko said. "I read it when I was 4, and nobody made me."
Another student asked, "How many brothers and sisters do you have?"
"I'm an only child," Fesenko said. "I'm selfish, and I don't like to share."
Fesenko's humorous answers went unnoticed at times. When a student asked what his favorite game was when he was little, Fesenko answered, "Hide and seek, but for me it was always a challenge."
He even had the students help him answer. When he was asked, "Have you ever fouled out?" Fesenko turned to the crowed as several of the students shouted, "Yes!"
"That's a big problem I have," Fesenko said. "I like to hurt people."
Fesenko said answering questions from the students was a nice change from dealing with the questions he is used to hearing from reporters.
"Reporters don't care about what my favorite kind of dessert is," he said.
That would be Belgian waffles with lots of whipped cream, by the way, and Fesenko later admitted his favorite food is doughnuts, but he doesn't get to eat as many as he wants.
A few times, Fesenko had to have the students quiet down, even jokingly threatening to have them all do push-ups. But it was difficult for the students to contain their excitement.
"Our kids are just thrilled," said Principal Judy Nixon.
The students worked hard to earn a visit from a Jazz player for the fourth year in a row, improving from last year's average of 1,522 minutes per student.
Darcy Ostler, the school's librarian, said the students read a total of 71,000 more minutes during this year's contest than last year's.
"It really helps the kids in their reading levels," Ostler said.
Kosta Koufos read to the students last year, while Ronnie Price and Mehmet Okur visited the school the previous years.