A 6-foot guard, Wesley went undrafted and was cut in his first camp as a rookie free agent and looked to be headed for the same fate as countless college athletes who dream of pro careers. But he beat the long odds the next year, making the New Jersey Nets’ roster to begin a 14-season NBA career.
‘‘I’m one of those stories that just turned out,’’ Wesley said. ‘‘It worked out.’’
After a pro career in which he made more than $32 million, Wesley has again bucked conventional wisdom by returning to Baylor to finish his degree while working with players nearly half his age who refer to him as ‘‘Uncle Wesley.’’
He returned to school for the final 33 hours of classes needed to earn his diploma. He took 16 hours in the fall and had a 4.0 GPA, a level of academic achievement that eluded him his first time as a student.
I was ‘‘not even close, not even in the neighborhood,’’ he said.
While Wesley is much more focused on academics this time, including a 17-hour load with an anatomy class this spring, basketball is still part of his campus life. He is one of about a dozen student-managers for the Bears.
Not a typical student-manager getting water or shagging balls. The 38-year-old former NBA player is there to offer pointers and encouragement to the players.
‘‘We like to call him Uncle Wesley because he has a lot of knowledge,’’ Kevin Rogers said. ‘‘It’s not really strange because David is really just a normal guy. He doesn’t want attention. He’s just here to help in any possible way he can.’’
NBA hopeful Curtis Jerrells, a senior point guard who knocked Wesley out of the top 10 on Baylor’s career scoring list this season, tries to absorb everything he can from Wesley.
‘‘He teaches some of the things to look for, other than basic things,’’ Jerrells said. ‘‘The tools you are going to need to get you to the next level.’’
NCAA rules prohibit Wesley, or any student-manager, from helping coach Scott Drew instruct the team. But that didn’t keep Wesley from taking part in pickup and shooting games with players before he was forced on crutches because of knee surgery over the Christmas break.
Wesley spends a lot of time just talking to players and answering their questions.
One instance that stood out for Drew was when the team was stuck in an airport on the way to Washington State for a game. There was an NBA game on television, and Wesley shared his insight, explaining different aspects of what was happening with players, coaches and even officials.
‘‘It was great,’’ said Wesley, though the layover roused a different memory for him.
‘‘It really took me way back to my CBA days,’’ he said. ‘‘One airport, another airport, bus, two-hour drive to the next spot.’’
The Southwest Conference player of the year as a senior at Baylor, Wesley played a year in the Continental Basketball Association after being cut by the Houston Rockets during training camp in 1992.
A contract with the Nets followed in 1993-94, and he later played for Boston (1994-97), the Hornets in Charlotte and New Orleans (1997-2004), Houston (2004-06) and Cleveland (06-07).
Averaging 12.5 points and 4.4 assists over 949 career games, Wesley finished with 11,842 points for his career. He and Hall of Fame center Moses Malone are the only undrafted players ever to score more than 11,000 points.
Wesley averaged a career-high 17.2 points for Charlotte in 2000-01, the season after the death of best friend and Hornets teammate Bobby Phills.
Police said Wesley and Phills were driving their Porsches at excessive speeds in January 2000 when Phills lost control and slid into oncoming traffic. He died instantly, and Wesley saw it happen in his rearview mirror.
A North Carolina judge determined Wesley was driving recklessly, not racing with Phills. Wesley got a 30-day suspended sentence and was ordered to complete community service.
Wesley spent 7 1/2 seasons with the Hornets before being traded to Houston midway through the 2004-05 season. He finished his career with 35 games for the Cavs in 2006-07.
Done with the NBA, Wesley returned home for a year off with his wife and children in Houston.
Drew had already approached him about being involved in the Bears program when his playing days were over, and Wesley had long hoped to finish his degree.
‘‘Everybody in my family has a degree. My mom’s been talking about it for years,’’ he said. ‘‘It was just something on my mind, the way I walked away from school and left it undone. It was something I wanted to finish.’’
During the 1998-99 NBA lockout, Wesley registered at Baylor, had his books and was already on campus ready for classes when the season finally started.
So Wesley, who wants to coach in college or high school after he gets his degree, had to wait a little longer to go back to school.
Being a student-manager allows him to be involved in basketball and also have the freedom to concentrate on academics and make frequent 2 1/2-hour drives home to Houston.
‘‘This works out better for me than actually being the coach right now, and I get to learn,’’ Wesley said. ‘‘It’s perfect.’’
Besides sharing tips on basketball, Wesley also encourages Baylor players to take their academics seriously. He provides a gleaming example with his grades and how he now approaches school work.
‘‘It’s not that hard to get it done the first time,’’ he said. ‘‘Being in the real world, you learn so much, better time management, how important it is just to go to work every day. It’s made me a better student, more focused, and more determined.’’
Walking into the gym for a late-night conditioning session before the season, Drew noticed somebody sitting in a car. It was Wesley, using the dome light to study for a class before going inside for the workout.
‘‘Our players get a chance to pick David’s brain and find out what he did to be successful,’’ Drew said. ‘‘They also see how hard he’s studying to get his degree, and that sends a positive message.’’
When former Celtics coach M.L. Carr heard about Wesley’s straight-A performance last fall, Carr called him a genius.
‘‘I said ’I wish,’’’ Wesley said. ‘‘I might be a genius at time management, but it’s just, I put the time in it. If I could have given half the effort, just half the effort that I did this semester, I’d be done already.’’
|< Prev||Next >|