Everybody loves the underdog, right? Then everybody should love Mario West.
Contrary to popular belief, West actually WAS drafted out of college. Just not by an NBA team — by the Harlem Globetrotters. As a senior at Georgia Tech, West averaged only 4.7 points per game. For a reference point, Brian Scalabrine averaged 14.7 points as a senior (and 17.8 as a junior), and Scal even played for a better team. Somehow, someway, after his completely nondescript college career, West clawed his way onto his hometown Atlanta Hawks. How’d he do it? Defense, dummy. And heart. All heart.
“I’ve been around this league a long time and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a guy play as hard as Mario plays,” said Hawks head coach Mike Woodson at the time. “He pushes guys in practice to play hard and if you don’t play hard he embarrasses you in terms of just knocking the hell out of you. He is contagious, he wants to do right, he wants to learn, he’s coachable. That’s a guy you want on your basketball team.”
Woodson wasn’t the only person who saw West’s value in Atlanta. Teammate Acie Law said, “”You can ask anybody in this locker room, Mario’s the hardest worker on the team. You have to be at practice to see him. His motor never stops.”
Think that motor makes West a coach’s favorite? You bet. “I love everything about Mario West,” Mike Woodson said this past year. It makes West a fan favorite too. So does his attitude.
“I’m not playing a lot,” West said last year when he was in Atlanta, “but my position is to make sure I’m supporting the team, pushing those guys to the limit. I’ve been really blessed. A million people want to be in my shoes. I don’t take it for granted.”
Which is why he keeps working harder than everyone else. West understands that most NBA players, and probably every single Celtic, have more talent. He knows the Celtics have only one spot open, and that Von Wafer has better natural basketball ability. But West also knows this: if he doesn’t earn the Celtics’ last spot, his marginal basketball talent will be the only thing holding him back. Effort certainly won’t. Neither will toughness. West has both of those traits in spades. Most guys nicknamed Truck normally do.
When Paul Pierce looks at Mario West, he sees a competitor. “I feel like somebody told him if you don’t make this team, your life is on the line,” Pierce told CSNNE. “That’s the way he’s playing; like his life is on the line.”
And it is. His NBA life, at least. West’s job this preseason is to prove his worth. He must show Danny Ainge and Doc Rivers that his defensive intensity is worth keeping around. That his grit and passion are worth more than Wafer’s three-point stroke and explosive scoring. That the two players he models his game after, Raja Bell and Bruce Bowen, are rubbing off on him. That his career 16.7% three-point shooting can improve, drastically.
“I don’t know the roster situation,” Pierce said. “But guys like me, Kevin, Ray [Allen], we love guys like [West].”
So will you.