March 25, 2010

Former Claw just happy filling a role

Mario West sees little action for the Atlanta Hawks, but proves a valued practice player.

Each season in the NBA Development League, a few dozen enviable players get the call to the NBA for their striking skills, clear upside or an ability that fits a niche.

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Mario West’s time with the Maine Red Claws included a thundering dunk over Taylor Griffin on New Year’s Day. Now he’s signed with the Atlanta Hawks for the rest of the season.

2009 Press Herald File

Atlanta Hawks Media Day
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Mario West

Mario West holds that distinction for the Maine Red Claws.

West left Jan. 10 for a 10-day tryout with the Atlanta Hawks and ultimately was signed for the season.

In Maine he ranked among the most dynamic players to come through the franchise, best remembered for his drive to the basket. He may still claim the dunk of all dunks – a one-handed arcing slam over the head of NBA prospect Taylor Griffin on New Year's Day.

With Atlanta, West averages 3.2 minutes per game.

For points, he averages .6 – a fraction of a basket.

And one of his major responsibilities is to work with star guard Joe Johnson in practice, readying him to face opponents.

"It's all about a role," said West. "That's a role I take pride in. I'm not playing a lot, 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."

West is one of the 25 call-ups this season in a league whose primary purpose is to provide a high-level system for NBA teams to both send their developing prospects and pluck away talent from a pool of free agents.

Last year the D-League had 14 call-ups at this point.

If the pace keeps up, their call-up total in the 2009-10 season will shatter records, according to Chris Alpert, the league's vice president of basketball operations. Last year the record total number of call-ups was 24.

"There's the Mario Wests who've had a taste of the NBA, played a little and are trying to get back up," said Alpert. "We have some rookies who are very good players and get a lot of interest. Some guys feel it's a long shot but decide to stay domestic, get great coaching, play NBA rules and get scouted on a nightly basis. That could open up a veteran-camp invite, a summer-league invite. We've had a tremendous track record this year."

West said he relishes his role helping Johnson stay prepared for opponents. The Hawks (46-25), who clinched a playoff spot Wednesday night, are tied with the Boston Celtics for third place in the Eastern Conference.

"Any chance I get to guard Joe, I love his game, I can be biased and say that," said West. "I love what he's able to do on the court. I try to get him ready. Teams focus on him. I try to make him work as much as possible."

The call-up went deeper still for West, who grew up 25 minutes outside Atlanta, walked onto his college team at Georgia Tech and is rooted in the area.

He played for the Hawks in 2007-08 and 2008-09, but was a late roster cut this year and signed on with Maine for the exposure the league provides. He logged heavy minutes and got a chance to run the floor at point guard, averaging a little over 13 points per game.

"We didn't think he'd be here long," said Red Claws General Manager Jon Jennings. "He made quite a difference for us. He literally won us a few games. He was one of those players that I love. The guy you'll see in the gym when no one else is around. We were sorry to see him leave but obviously thrilled for him to get back."

(Continued on page 2)

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