April 12, 2007
ATLANTA – Senior guard Mario West capped a storybook college basketball career Thursday night when he received the Michael Isenhour Inspirational Award and the team’s Excellence Award at Georgia Tech’s annual year-end team banquet at the Georgia Tech Hotel and Conference Center.
West, a 2006 graduate of the Institute in Management who played his senior season of basketball while working on a second degree this past year, finished a remarkable five-year career that began when he joined the team as a walk-on for the 2002-03 season. The Douglasville, Ga., native earned a scholarship after that season and played 19 games during the Yellow Jackets Final Four run of 2004.
“I have to say thank you to everyone, especially Coach Hewitt, who took a big chance on a guy like me,” said West. “I’m a product of your teaching and the things you’ve instilled in us. This has been an unbelievable ride and a dream come true.”
In four years, he built a reputation as one of the top defenders in the ACC, played in more than 100 games and finished in the top 20 in steals all-time at Tech despite averaging just under 14 minutes a game over his career. Following this season, West was invited to and then won the State Farm National Slam Dunk championship during Final Four week in Atlanta, getting a perfect score in the final round.
“I’m glad he didn’t listen to me when I told him not to come to school this year for basketball. Without him, there’s no way we’re in the NCAA Tournament,” said head coach Paul Hewitt. “He epitomizes everything that I try to teach these kids about college basketball: use it to get where you want to go in life. He has taken every opportunity I’ve given him and made the most of it. I would say that that this young man has made the most of his college career.”
Also honored Thursday night were D’Andre Bell, a sophomore from Los Angeles who won the team’s top Student-Athlete Award, and Alade Aminu, a sophomore from Stone Mountain recognized as the team’s Most Improved Player. Both players keyed a February resurgence in which Tech won seven of nine games to lift the Yellow Jackets into contention for an at-large bid to the NCAA Championship, which they received.
Freshmen Javaris Crittenton and Thaddeus Young were honored as the team’s leading scorers, each with 14.4 points a game. Crittenton earned third-team all-Atlantic Coast Conference honors this year and made the ACC’s All-Freshman team, while both players earned Freshman all-America honors.
Jeremis Smith was honored as the team’s top rebounder for the second straight year. The junior forward from Fort Worth, Texas, averaged 5.9 boards this year to rank 15th in the ACC.
For the fourth time in seven years under head coach Paul Hewitt, and for the 14th time since 1985, Georgia Tech made it back to the NCAA Tournament, the crowning event of college basketball, riding a nucleus of veteran players and the nation’s sixth-ranked freshman class.
The Yellow Jackets won 20 games for the third time in four years, posting a 20-12 overall mark, and finished 8-8 in the ACC, tying for sixth place in the conference standings with Duke.
“I’ve really enjoyed coaching this team, but these guys deserve all the credit,” said Hewitt. “To go from 2-6 to 8-8 and in the NCAA Tournament really says a lot about them, how hard they worked and how they came together.”