West addresses alma mater's commencement

Updated: May 15, 2006, 8:02 AM ET
Associated Press

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Jerry West is now Dr. J.

West returned to West Virginia six months after his alma mater retired the NBA great's No. 44 jersey to give the school's 137th commencement address Sunday.

Introduced as among "the most recognizable West Virginians ever," West also received an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters.

West, wearing the traditional gold-and-blue cap and gown, talked about how he built his career from humble beginnings in his hometown of Chelyan.

"I had a God-given gift, but that alone was not enough," he said. "I needed character, determination and resolve. I never took myself very seriously, but I took what I did very seriously."

The Memphis Grizzlies' president led the Mountaineers to their only NCAA finals appearance in 1960. He still holds school records in six different categories, including points scored (2,309) and rebounds (1,240).

West was known as a tenacious player who was rarely satisfied with his performance. He grew up shooting at a basket nailed to a shed and often shot until his fingers bled.

He became the first high school player in state history to score more than 900 points in a season, averaging 32.2 points in leading East Bank High to a state title.

"Success without a personal satisfaction or sacrifice isn't success at all," West said. "It's posturing. Money is a means of power, but seldom a measure of success."

West received a standing ovation before and after his 30-minute speech in front of 3,300 students and a crowd of 10,000.

"That was neat because he is a legend here and not many people get the opportunity to do that," graduate Mandy Downes said. "He offered a lot of advice for grads, a lot of things we could take with us and use in life."

West's son, Johnnie, has signed a letter of intent to play basketball at West Virginia next season.


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press