Jerry West set goals at an early age

NBA legend Jerry West drove down from his current hometown of Memphis, Tenn., to speak at the Coaches vs. Cancer luncheon Monday. West, who recently signed on with Memphis for two more years, has been with the Grizzlies since the spring of 2002. Grizzlies executive assistant Gary Colson also attended.

Jerry West could have grown up in Mississippi. He didn't necessarily say that in his 25-minute remarks at the Coaches vs. Cancer luncheon in Oxford Monday, but he alluded to it.

West, a 10-time NBA all-star and one of the league's most successful executives, grew up in West Virginia and played basketball for the WVU Mountaineers before becoming a professional legend.

"I like solitude," said West, ironically living most of his adult life in the metropolis of Los Angeles before joining the Memphis Grizzlies as President of Basketball Operations in the spring of 2002. "Growing up, I loved to go fishing. I loved to go out in the woods of West Virginia and be alone."

But West's life would evolve into one that had him constantly surrounded with people – from basketball players and coaches to fans and admirers. West said he didn't relish the limelight then and doesn't now.

"I grew up in a town of about 500 people," said West, who recently signed on for two more years with the Grizzlies. "Most of the people there worked in the coal mines or at the power plant. It was there I got my start."

It was also there that West decided he would make something of himself. Something he heard one day while walking through town had an impact that lasts today.

"There was a man and woman sitting on their front porch, and I overheard one of them say, 'That boy won't amount to anything.' I never forgot that. I started setting goals right then."

His goal-setting allowed him to reach the top of his profession, first as a player and then as a coach and executive, for the past 50 years.

"I learned at an early age that there's more to life than what people think about you," said the man who was the model for the current NBA logo. "It's what's on the inside that matters. And so it was about that time that I fell in love with the game of basketball.

"As a child, we all dream of being certain things. I was the basketball player, the coach, the trainer, the manager, the official, the announcer. I was everything. I dreamed and set goals way back then, and it helped me get where I am today."

West, a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame and a member of the Top 50 All-Time NBA players club, said it wasn't always easy even for him.

"I played in eight NBA finals, and I won one," he said, playing on the Laker team that won the NBA crown in 1972, a team that went 69-13 and at one point had a 33-game winning streak. "There were times I wanted to quit because we didn't win it all. We gave it our best and it wasn't good enough. I guess you could say I have been cursed with the fact that I am so competitive."

West, who also mentioned that the death of his brother in the Korean War had a profound impact on his life, brought his executive skills to the Mid-South when the NBA finally arrived in the area. Since he joined the Grizzles at the end of their first season in Memphis, the franchise has made two consecutive appearances in the NBA playoffs, a first for that franchise both in Memphis and in its original location of Vancouver, B.C., Canada.

West said he is pleased to be in the Mid-South, still working in the profession he loves, a game that long ago became his life. He also had high praise for Ole Miss men's head coach Rod Barnes.

"You have one of the finest men I've ever met leading your program," West said.

And always searching for talent for his NBA team, West quipped of Barnes, "If only he would cheat," a comment which broke up the room.

Barnes then took the podium after West's remarks.

"Not going to cheat," he looked directly at West and said, as both laughed and those in the room did once again.

"This has been a wonderful and awesome day for me," Barnes said. "It is filled with the important things in life – faith in God, my family - and you all are my family - and basketball."

Ole Miss women's head coach Carol Ross was scheduled to attend but was delayed in travels back into Oxford when a flight was cancelled. UM Senior Associate Athletics Director/Senior Women's Administrator Lynnette Johnson made remarks in Ross' absence. Ole Miss Associate Athletic Director for External Operations Derek Horne served as Master of Ceremonies, along with Judy Conner, president of the Ole Miss Tip-Off Club.

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