Lang Whitaker - Greasy Does It

Lang Whitaker is many things - executive editor of Slam Magazine, a contributor for NBA TV, a book author, and most importantly, a die-hard Hawks fan. After starting 2-for-2 in pushing the Hawks into the postseason, he's back for his third season in 2009-10 to share his thoughts on the team exclusively for Hawks.com. Check back every Thursday throughout the season to read his latest musings, and read him every day at www.SLAMonline.com

Greasy Does It
by Lang Whitaker

“Man, it’s a wonderful feeling to be back home.”

That was the first thing Mario West said to me this morning when I got him on the phone after Hawks practice. Two days ago, West signed a 10-day contract with the Hawks, returning to the franchise where he played the last two seasons. West grew up a Hawks fan while attending Douglas County High School over in Douglasville, and then while playing basketball a few miles up the road from Philips Arena over at Georgia Tech. West started at Tech as a walk-on and graduated as a team captain.

“At Georgia Tech, at first I played just a few seconds here and there as the guy on the top of the press, sort of providing the spark. Over the years at Tech it evolved and changed, and I began playing back-up point guard and playing on the wing. And in the NBA it’s been almost like starting all over again. To me, the NBA is an opportunity, and feel like I gotta make the most of every opportunity.”

West basically walked-on to the Hawks as well. After going undrafted in the 2007 NBA Draft, West showed up at Hawks training camp and fought his way onto the roster as a defensive specialist, a position near and dear to Coach Woodson’s heart. More importantly, and this is something that’s not visible during games, West became the guy who pushed the rest of the Hawks day after day in practice. In fact, it was in one of his first practices where he earned his nickname, “Greasy.”

“We were doing a drill my rookie year, a three-point shooting drill. I can’t remember who I was going against, but it was first one to make 10 threes. Other guy was kind of playful, and it was a competitive environment, and he started out hitting threes and was talking trash to me. Then I started making them, and I was saying, ‘I hear you over there talking greasy!’ and making shot after shot, and all my teammates started calling me ‘Greasy.’ I guess Coach heard about it, because the next day Coach Woodson was calling me ‘Greasy,’ from then on that’s the only thing he’s called me.”

In the preseason this year, the Hawks cut West. “That was my first taste of the business side of the NBA. I understood. When I got cut I stayed in touch, kept texting the guys, just keeping tabs. It’s been a blessing. These are guys who are not just my teammate, I call them brothers. It’s really something you feel a part of. It was like not seeing your family every day. It was like going off to school or something. I wondered when or if I’d be able to get back to see and play with the guys.”

Away from the NBA, West spent two weeks playing ball in China before coming to the D-League, where he played for the Maine Red Claws. Now he’s back in the L. In fact, just last night, with Zaza Pachulia out sick and Mo Evans attending to the birth of a child, West logged 12 minutes against the Wizards. He scored 5 points, grabbed 5 boards and finished with a +2 rating.

Mario West isn’t Michael Jordan. What is important, though, is that West understands what he is. West says he’s aiming to provide the grease for the Hawks, attempting to be the guy who makes all the other parts work better together. Some fans love him, some don’t understand why he’s on the Hawks. But Mario does.

“People have a knock on me of not being a shooter, not being able to score,” West says. “But what I do, it’s really more about me filling a need and a role. That’s what makes up a team. If everybody did the same thing, it would be stagnant.”

Today, all Mario West can be sure about is that he will be a member of the Atlanta Hawks until his 10-Day contract expires on January 22.

And after that?

“Honestly, I don’t know. I’m living in the moment. I’m playing for the Atlanta Hawks, my hometown team, and every time I step onto the court, I take pride in that. I’m going to continue to do the best job I can do. Everything else will take care of itself.”

Lang Whitaker is the executive editor of SLAM magazine and writes throughout the week at SLAMonline.com. Also, catch Lang every Tuesday night at 6:00 p.m. on NBA TV's "The Beat." He can be reached at lang@harris-pub.com.

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