There is no one David Wesley admires and respects more than his dad, Donald B. Wesley, supervisor of TDCJ's District Parole Office in Longview. He's his role model. So when David got the chance to do his pop proud by rebounding his dream of playing professional basketball, he took his best shot. And he hit nothing but net.
David played 14 seasons in the NBA, six with the former Charlotte Hornets, before retiring last year. He and his father now conduct basketball camps at home and abroad. In June, they held their sixth annual basketball camp in Longview and then traveled to Berlin, Germany for a week in August to teach the youth of that country the fundamentals of the game. They have also traveled the length of Japan conducting basketball camps in past years.
"Basketball has become so universal that it's big everywhere," the elder Wesley said.
David modeled his game after his dad, a football player who didn't play basketball until his senior year in high school in Chester, Pennsylvania, where he played against a kid named Reggie Jackson, a future member of the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. After four years of playing football and basketball in the U.S. Air Force, the elder Wesley went on to earn honorable mention All-American honors in basketball at St. Mary's University in San Antonio. There he played alongside future Houston Rockets standout Robert Reid while earning his degree in political science. After college, Donald took his shot at becoming an NBA player by trying out for the San Antonio Spurs. But his attempt fell short when he was cut halfway through the season. He later turned down invitations to try out for the Phoenix Suns of the NBA and the NFL's Dallas Cowboys.
"During that time, the Dallas Cowboys were recruiting basketball players to play football," said Donald, who grew up just outside of Philadelphia and remains a feverish fan of that city's professional football team, the Eagles. "I felt like if I had gone (to camp), I could have made the football team. But I wanted to make it in basketball, and I guess I was a little disappointed after I didn't make it with the Spurs. Also at that point, I had two kids and I needed to work. I didn't want to be a basketball junkie."
Donald applied for a job with the FBI, but decided later to accept a management position with Sears in Beaumont. He left the company after two years, however, and wandered from job to job for a time.
"It seemed like I couldn't find my niche after that," he said.
It wasn't until a neighbor who worked in parole suggested he give the field of criminal justice a tryout that Donald found his niche. He was hired by TDCJ as a parole officer in Tyler in 1991 and was named supervisor of the Longview office in 1999.
"When I came here I couldn't think of anywhere else I'd rather be," he said. "I enjoy doing it."
Donald was working as a parole officer in 1993 when the New Jersey Nets drafted David, an all-state player at Longview High School who earned all-conference honors at Baylor University in Waco. In addition to the Charlotte Hornets (now the New Orleans Hornets) he also played the shooting guard position for the Boston Celtics, the Houston Rockets, and the Cleveland Cavilers. Donald said his role in he and his son's basketball camps is to handle all the arrangements, although he does enjoy working with the campers one-on-one on occasion.
"Kids are real to me," he said. "You know exactly what they feel and how they feel. I've always been a kid person, and David's the same way. We love kids."
Donald and his son also see the camps as a way of reaching kids who might be headed in the wrong direction.
"Some of them have taken a wrong turn," Donald said about some of the parolees he supervises. "Some of them need a mentor. Some of them need somebody who will step up and say, 'Okay, I'm willing to help you if you're willing to help yourself.' If there's a chance that through these camps I can keep one of them from one day coming in here as a paroled offender, it's worth it to me. To be honest, I think that's part of my calling. I think that's what I'm supposed to do. If I can help them, then that's what I need to be doing."
Donald continued to play basketball and referee games regularly until a few years ago when two hip surgeries finally slowed him down some. He spent two months in the hospital earlier this year when an aorta in his abdomen ruptured. He now takes medication to control his blood pressure but remains active.
"You still need to go through life," he said. "You just can't shut it down."
While Donald, 61, won't be retiring two years from now as a NBA star like his son, he is satisfied with his long TDCJ career.
"I'd have loved to have played in the NBA," he said. "If I still could have done it 15 years ago I would have. I enjoyed playing that much. But in leaving here, I will have that sense of accomplishment of having done this for 20 years. And I will also have that sense that I've helped lead or guide some kid in the right direction."