Lil Bow Wow, the young hip hop phenomenon, gets his first starring screen role in “Like Mike,” a fantasy about how an orphan named Calvin Cambridge finds his life changed when a pair of magic sneakers that once belonged to Michael Jordan give him the basketball talent not only to join the NBA at fourteen but to lead his lackluster team to a playoff run. During a recent stopover in Dallas, the precocious rapper exuded confidence about his ability to segue from music to the movies.

“With me, I can catch on and learn so easily and quickly,” Bow Wow said (at age fifteen, he’s dropping the “Lil” from his stage name). “Sometimes I would get mad at something because it’s not me–I’m so used to being Bow Wow, the hip hop kid. But it’s part of acting where I have to be Calvin–and Calvin was definitely different from Bow Wow.” One aspect of the role that fit him like a glove was the court action, since he’s a player himself. (“I’m definitely going to some camps next year,” he said, adding that he hopes to play for Duke in a few years. And he jokingly praised the movie because “it’s definitely helping me to get into the NBA–that’s one thing I like about it.”) Still, it was sometimes daunting to have to perform for the cameras, especially when he had to sink three-point shots before a crowd in Staples Arena. “That’s the only thing I was thinking about, because we had like six, eight thousand extras–what happens if I go up for this shot and I really blow it?” he recalled. “‘Cause Morris [Chestnut, who plays Calvin’s teammate] was airballing some, and I was missing layups. I was making all my jump shots. Morris made all his layups, and I wasn’t making all my layups. And Morris–he was just airballing, and they were like ‘Boo, come on, Morris!’ I was missing my layups so bad I felt so embarrassed, ’cause I always make my layups.” But he sank his three-pointers. In fact, all the basketball action in the film was actually done by Bow Wow, with a single exception–the dunk shots. “All the dunking had to be done from platforms,” he admitted.

For now, Bow Wow is preparing a major concert tour, but he sees more acting in his future. “I plan on doing more movies,” he said. “It’s definitely more calm and more mellow than what I’ve been doing.” And though he’s pursued by fans wherever he goes, he remains grounded. “I’m fifteen years old, but I’ve got the mind of a fifty-year old. I know what’s right. I know not to get a big head. I know right from wrong. And with my mom being on the road with me, she always keeps me in line.” Certainly the most conservative parent could agree with the advice he offered to youngsters who wanted to follow in his footsteps. “Stay focused, stay in school and don’t do drugs,” he said. “Not all of us can be superstars or basketball players, but God put us all on this earth for something, so you can definitely accomplish something in life.”