Nov. 5, 2016
By Jon Cooper | The Good Word
– Anyone who has followed Mario West’s basketball career has probably thought at one time or another, “His story would make a great book.”
Probably nobody thought that thought more than West. It was just a matter of when to do it.
“When I first accomplished my dream of playing in the NBA, I sat back and I was like, ‘Wow. I can’t believe that I’m sitting here now living the dream that I dreamed of since I was the age of seven.’ The seed was already kind of planted,” said West, Georgia Tech class of 2007 and now the men’s basketball program’s director of player personnel. “Fast forward 10 years, I said, ‘You know what? It is time. I have been putting this off for I don’t know how long. I said, ‘This would be cool to do.’”
The final push came in 2015, as West sat in his room in Argentina, with his leg propped up, having just torn his Achilles tendon.
The result is “Defend the Dream, 20 ways to win the game of your dream,” (BNQ Publishing, Inc.), authored by West, with the help of writer Shakyna Bolden, a lifelong friend whose resume includes writing for Essence Magazine.
“She just did a phenomenal job. I’m so grateful to have her as a partner and have her instinct and her voice in helping me put this together,” West said. “A lot of this information I already had compiled in my head, and I actually have a journal that helped her get some quotes and things but she helped me put all of it together perfectly. I’m beyond excited about this.”
(Mario also is very excited to meet Georgia Tech fans and buyers of the book at a signing for “Defend the Dream” at the Georgia Tech Barnes and Noble on Fifth and Spring Streets between 2 and 4 p.m. on Sunday.)
There are so many life experiences upon which to reflect.
Unrecruited out of high school, West walked on at Georgia Tech and became a valuable member of Yellow Jackets squads that reached three straight NCAA Tournaments, including a run to the 2004 National Championship Game. Ironically, then-Tech coach Paul Hewitt went to one of West’s games but it was in pursuit of future Atlanta Hawks teammate Josh Smith.
Undrafted, Mario tried out for and earned a spot on the 2007-08 Hawks, the first to make the playoffs in nine years. He played three of his four NBA seasons (2007-11) in Atlanta.
Undeterred, he refused to call it a career in 2011 after getting cut by the New Jersey Nets and cobbled together an international career that lasted five years, in which he played with nine different teams in six different countries.
Unabashed, he came back to the Flats on April 8 for current new coach Josh Pastner’s introductory press conference, introduced himself to Pastner, expressed an interest in being part of his Jackets’ program and so impressed Pastner that he was hired as director of player personnel.
It sounds like a dream come true, and West admits that it is. But “Defend the Dream” is not solely about him making his dream reality. Instead, West has taken his experiences and methods and turned it into a “playbook” for others to follow and fulfill their dreams.
“I will caution the readers, it’s not a basketball book,” he said. “Rather it’s about life and the trials and tribulations. I talk about the book in comparison to a game, of trying to win your dream or win the game. You have these 20 plays that I kind of map out saying, ‘Basically here is each step to achieve your dream.’ It gives an outline. It’s set up like a game.
“I hope that everyone that reads the book is able to take away these lessons from this playbook and are able to say, ‘I understand that, and I am able to execute that play’ and encourage them to pursue their dreams.”
West, who consulted with Hewitt and former Jackets teammates Isma’il Muhammad, who read the entire rough draft, B.J. Elder, Jarrett Jack and Marvin Lewis about the book, found going back over his road with Bolden therapeutic.
It also turned out to be quite emotional at times, especially recalling moments like Hewitt stopping practice to tell him that he was being put on scholarship, the day Hawks coach Mike Woodson named him to the team’s roster, the pure joy of the 2004 team’s ride to the NCAA championship game, and even his winning the 19th Annual State Farm College Slam Dunk Championship in 2007.
“Some [moments] were painful, which as I’m discussing them [with Shakyna] made me cry,” he recalled. “It hurt, that emotion of thinking back to what I had to go through at that time. Also crying in the sense of what I was able to accomplish.”
West feels the most important part of this book is what it will inspire in readers. He wants them to use ‘Defend the Dream” as a manual to make their dreams come true, and then take the knowledge they’ve learned and pass it on to help others accomplish their goals.
Think of a relay race of sorts.
“I’ve run the race. I carried that baton around and I’ve finished the race. Now I’m passing it off to someone else and encouraging them to do the same thing,” he said. “Then after they cross the finish line, they hand it off to someone else. It’s like a domino effect.
“I hope it triggers people to not only pursue their dream but once they pursue their dream the ultimate goal is to tell THEIR story,” he added. “We all have a story to tell.”
Behind that story is a dream that West feels is something upon which no one should ever give up. It’s the message inside his book, one that is applicable to people ranging from middle school to college and beyond.
“The interesting thing I’ve found out, now saying that I’m a published author, is that even young adults that are in their early 20s, they’re still dreaming. They’re still evolving,” he said. “I have dreams that I’m still pursuing. This book was actually a dream that I’m now fortunate enough to say that I’ve accomplished. Being a coach, I’m actively pursuing another dream. We all have dreams, and there are still people out there that are grown with kids that are still pursuing their dreams or trying to figure out how they can pursue their dreams. I want to inspire them as well.
“Never stop dreaming,” he added, “and you have to defend that dream. You have to protect it.”