#TGW: Super Mario

April 19, 2018

By Jon Cooper | The Good Word

– If you are a fan of “When Good Things Happen to Good People,” you already are a fan of Mario West.

West’s is the story of a walk-on at Georgia Tech, who’d work his way up to captain, reaching a Final Four. After graduating he made the Atlanta Hawks as an undrafted free agent and played four years in the NBA before playing four more years internationally, in the Dominican Republic, Italy, France, Mexico, the Philippines and Argentina.

After retiring from professional play, head coach Josh Pastner brought him back to Georgia Tech’s basketball program as director of player personnel.

He’s about to add another dream come true.

This summer Mario will play in the second season of Big3 Basketball. The brainchild of rapper/actor Ice Cube and his partner entertainment executive Jeff Kwatinetz, the Big3 League is an eight-team, 3-on-3 season primarily comprised of former NBA players. It lasts eight weeks, followed by two weeks of playoffs, and is held in 10 different NBA cities. This year’s second season will play in Houston’s Toyota Center, Chicago’s United Center, Oakland’s Oracle Arena, Detroit’s Little Caesars Arena, Miami’s American Airlines Arena, Toronto’s Air Canada Centre, Boston’s TD Garden, and Atlanta’s Infinite Energy Arena, with the first week of playoffs at Dallas’ American Airlines Center and the championship being held at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.

“I’m just really humbled and grateful for this opportunity. When I say grateful I’m truly, truly excited and humbled,” West said. “Last summer, when it started I was thinking, `Man, it would be so cool to be a part of that.’ I didn’t think it was going to work out, especially with me just starting the job and the way the games were scheduled and set up.”

The games for 2018 were moved to Friday, which made it more compatible for West to participate. All he needed was Pastner’s okay. No problem there.

“Coach Pastner gave me the okay. He said, `Hey, I’m going to let you try out for this combine, but I’m still holding you accountable for your daily responsibilities,'” he said. “I’m so grateful to coach Pastner and the rest of the coaching staff for their support, and everyone here at the [Georgia Tech Athletic Association] have really shown unbelievable support during this whole process.”

The odds were long, but that only seems to fuel West, who has a lifetime of making believers from unbelievable situations.

West signed a contract to try out, then set his sites on the April 11 combine. He relentlessly hit the gym, bookending work days with workouts as well as changing his diet. The result was losing 25 pounds and regaining the kind of condition he had as a player.

He was ready when he arrived on the campus of UC-Santa Barbara for the combine.

“It was like 91 guys trying to fill 19 roster spots,” Mario recalled. “When you first got there, you got your jersey, got registered then you took pictures then we did a mass warmup. After that we did group shooting, then we did one-on-one, then like King of the Court, then they broke you up in to teams and played 3-on-3 the rest of the time to simulate an actual game. The games went to 25.

“It was cool,” he continued. “A lot of guys were in great shape. Guys that played in the League for years, that you might have forgotten about but can still play. Josh Powell was out there, I saw Andre Emmett, Alan Anderson, `Trey’ Johnson, Eddie Basden, `Smush’ Parker, Mike Gaines, some big men, Jamario Moon, JaMario Davis, Orien Greene, Jason Maxiell. The list goes on and on in terms of big time players that have had a lot of success that were out there at the combine.”

West showed enough to be selected with the 19th and final pick in the April 12 draft. He’ll be on “The Ghost Ballers,” coached by George “The Iceman” Gervin, and play with former Hawks point Mike Bibby, the team captain, explosive scorer Ricky Davis and power forward extraordinaire Carlos Boozer, the co-captains, and join fellow NBA players and college stars Lee Nailon and Marcus Banks.

West will continued to perform his normal duties for head coach Josh Pastner while working around his Big3 schedule.

He’ll eventually face such talent as Chauncey “Mr. Big Shot” Billups, Amar’e Stoudamire, Bonzi Wells, Nate Robinson, Kenyon Martin, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf (“He was Steph Curry before Steph Curry. If people don’t know who Mahmoud, aka Chris Jackson, is they need to look him up,” West said.), Baron Davis, Al Harrington and colorful characters Glen “Big Baby” Davis, Chris “Birdman” Andersen and Metta World Peace.

Yellow Jackets fans will be interested in watching former Jacket Dion Glover, who was part of last year’s champion, Trilogy.

The on-court talent is impressive, yet it still pales in comparison to those seen off the court at the Big3. The league’s commissioner is Basketball Hall of Famer Clyde “The Glide” Drexler, while the coaches include Hall of Famers Gervin, “Dr. J” Julius Erving, Rick Barry, Allen Iverson, Gary Payton, Nancy Lieberman and renowned NBA tough guys Rick Mahorn and Charles Oakley.

West is thrilled at the prospect of getting to play for Gervin.

“How fantastic is that? How incredible is that?!?” he said. “To actually play for `The Iceman’….As a kid, you hear stories and see the old clips of NBA games and his moves and how he got the nickname, `Iceman,’ and I’m like, `Wow! I’m HERE shaking hands and meeting him and actually having the opportunity to play for him. That’s truly incredible.”

As incredible was meeting Ice Cube.

“I don’t get starstruck too often, but I was really starstruck meeting Ice Cube,” he said. “From N.W.A., all of the movies, `Friday,’ he’s someone I grew up on, watching, idolizing. Also Clyde Drexler, again, because he was someone I grew up watching play the game of basketball. They’re truly very humble guys. They were just gracious in terms of, `Thank you for coming out.’ He shook my hand and just talked about whatever. I thought that was really cool. They make time for everybody. They didn’t know who I was, but I knew who they were. That was really cool and something that I’ll always remember.”

The Big3 has some special rules. Among them are games go to 50 (teams must win by two) — halftime comes when one team hits 25 — there are two- and three-point shots at NBA distance and three four-point zones (one at mid-court and two on 40-degrees away from midcourt line), a 14-second shot clock, no fouling out, as fouls go against the team, the referee must touch the ball after each made basket, and the home team is decided by a pregame, do-or-die four-point shootout.

West sees big things for Big3.

“Last year was such a great success. The fans came out,” he said. “Legends never die. A lot of those guys that are retired are still NBA legends. The fans want to come out and support them. Just to know they’re in the building, they’re still a part of basketball. Then you had current NBA players come out and show their support.

“This 3-on-3 is really growing. Now you see it’s an Olympic sport (3-on-3 basketball will be an official Olympic sport beginning at the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo),” he added. “The Big3 is here, and it’s only getting bigger and better. This summer I’m grateful to be a part of it.”

Games start on June 22 in Houston. Between now and then, West will do what he’s always done.

“It’s just continue to work out. I’ve got to get in better shape,” he said. “I’m in really, really good shape, but I need to be in the best shape that I can be in, so that means workouts, I have to step them up, do more therapy and maintenance, making sure that I’m iced and treat my body. It’s the same routine that I was doing when I was trying to make an NBA roster, even when I was ON an NBA roster, in terms of diet.

“The story of my life is `Pray and grind,'” he added. “`Pray and grind,’ that’s all I know.”