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A new direction for West

Suspension over, guard looks ahead

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By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / November 18, 2010

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Delonte West’s 10-game suspension ended when he entered last night’s 114-83 win over the Washington Wizards, but not without a year’s worth of reflection and reclamation. He is unquestionably a flawed man, someone who needed intervention and evaluation.

During that time, the Celtics guard decided to offer a little of his own advice to those who don’t have million-dollar pro basketball contracts or a luxury condominium in which to serve their house arrest.

The monitor bracelet wrapped around West’s right ankle was a stern reminder of his mistake. While the circumstances of his gun charges drew amusement from some, West was reduced to being a docket number in the criminal justice system. He was embarrassed. Friends who always knew he was a little unusual were left shaking their heads in disappointment.

This was more than Delonte being Delonte. Carrying three loaded guns on a motorcycle while zipping through suburban Washington in September 2009 was far more bizarre and frightening than his past transgressions. West spent the 2009-10 season in Cleveland, protected by the Cavaliers, unwilling to meet with or shielded from the media.

This season, he has been a virtual chatterbox, but easily could have avoided addressing his troubles during training camp. Confronting his past has served as a form of therapy, and he has refused to camouflage his warts or hide in embarrassment.

The kids at the BARJ Drop-in Center in southeast Washington certainly appreciate his openness. The at-risk youths, most of whom are serving probation, drop by the center to spend constructive time away from negative environments. And once a week this summer, they were mentored by a 6-foot-3-inch free agent NBA guard.

“We just let them know we’re going through this together,’’ West said. “I know I came from right where you guys came from and I was a little bit of a troublemaker also.

“They could really relate to me. Just as I had my monitor bracelet on, every kid in the room had a monitor bracelet on. So it wasn’t like they couldn’t relate to me. I seen a different look in their eyes.’’

Working with troubled youth reminded West of his childhood in Greenbelt, Md. It also gave him a new perspective on his success as a pro athlete and how many kids view him as a role model.

“In a way, a lot of positives came out of it,’’ he said. “It might have been meant for me to take a few steps back for others to take a few steps forward and at the end of the day. I’m OK with that.

“Kids sometimes look up to [athletes] more than lawyers and teachers and doctors, so we gotta take that responsibility. Instead of really focusing on what I was doing on the basketball court, the focus was more off the court.’’

Leah Gurowitz, Director of Legislative, Intergovernmental, and Public Affairs at the District of Columbia Courts, said West’s presence served as a motivation for the youngsters in the program.

“Any time someone of that stature can spend some time with them, it’s a wonderful thing,’’ she said. “They spend time at the center to participate in positive activities and they need positive role models working with them.’’

It was mere coincidence that West returned to the Celtics lineup against his hometown Wizards, and that wasn’t lost on him. Family and friends had the opportunity to watch him take his first steps back to normalcy with the Celtics, although it remains an arduous process.

“You can only say sorry so many times,’’ said West, who had 12 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists in 21 minutes in his season debut. “As a man, you have to apologize if I make a mistake, which I did. But that doesn’t reflect on my character as a person.

“It’s about being a little more cautious about places where I hang out and the company I keep around myself. But being on house arrest throughout the season and the playoffs, I’m just able to focus on basketball. I go here and I go home. I come back here later in the day, and then I go home.

“My grandma Joyce always told me, you have ups, you have downs. If you stay the same, they come back around, so here we go.’’

Except for a run-in with teammate Von Wafer after a recent practice, West has stayed out of the headlines, his mind on his return. After team president Danny Ainge signed West to a nonguaranteed deal, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Jermaine O’Neal, and Shaquille O’Neal pulled West aside for a little intervention of their own.

“They sat me down and said, ‘This is it, man. We brought you in here, we have faith in you, in what you can do, and we don’t want no distractions,’ ’’ he said. “This means everything to me.

“Unfortunately I made some bad decisions in the past and it’s made people that’s come to know me and love me as a player frown upon the decisions I make. Being a role model, you know, that’s not the images and examples we’re trying to set for our kids.’’

The TD Garden crowd welcomed him back with a standing ovation. For West, it was the culmination of nervous anticipation.

“I haven’t slept in three days,’’ he said. “I stayed up until, 3 [o’clock], 4 in the morning trying to put together a nice ensemble, laying my clothes out on the floor, but realized I had to get some sleep.’’

There remains much convincing to do. Last night was a first step in West’s plan for redemption. He knows he will be watched closely on every step.

“This is big for me, man, like my road back to redemption,’’ he said. “It’s not a nationally televised game but I know everyone back in D.C. will be watching and I have huge family and friends and fan base back there and those kids I mentored this summer.

“You know people make mistakes, but how long are we going to stay in that mind frame? You got to keep on moving. Like I said, me taking a step down to push some others forward. I’ll take those miles all day.’’

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com.

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