The goal seemed unattainable for most; gain access and interview a handful of NBA players for a dissertation.

A University of New Mexico doctoral graduate did better than that as he aimed to illustrate the importance of mentorship, but most importantly, in the end, he gifted future students a lesson in resiliency.

“It was a dream of mine and I had nothing to lose." - Mark LaSota, UNM doctoral graduate

Mark LaSota secured rare access to nine Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductees in what can only be described as a journey of self-discovery.

LaSota, who graduated with a Doctorate of Philosophy in Physical Education, Sports and Exercise Science with a concentration in sports administration, grew up in Chicago. He said through life experiences he learned the hard way about the importance of mentorship. The Slovak and Polish American first-generation college graduate was raised by his grandparents.

“My grandparents were knowledgeable about life. I’m very grateful to them and for everything they did for me. Coming from a different culture they were not familiar with the American school system. In many ways college was a longshot for me,” LaSota said. “I didn’t have a whole lot of direction and I didn’t understand the importance of mentorship.”

Lasota and the Grossmont Junior College basketball team he coached from 2007 to 2008.

It wasn’t until LaSota became an educator and a coach where he learned the value of mentorship and the long-lasting impact it could have on a young individual.

“I’ve taught for several years and in the beginning, I saw myself in my students,” he said. “I was able to identify with many of them and noticed many needed someone, like I did, to believe in them.”

LaSota credits his life’s story and the personal challenges he faced as a child, teenager, and even young adult as motivation to pursue a dissertation topic and journey that would prove to be no small feat.

“I didn’t do this project for myself. I did it for my students and the impact I think it could have on them and their lives. Because let’s face it, young adults look up to athletes and Hall of Famers. In a sense, they serve as mentors to people without meeting them because of their status and accomplishments,” he said. “Two key lessons I hope people will take away from this study are the importance of effective communication skills and the importance of not fearing failure."

When he began writing emails, making phone calls, and attempting to connect with high profile professionals in the business, LaSota said he was turned away and laughed at more times than he can count. It took one person, LaSota said, who believed in his research and allowed him to help his study become reality.

Due to ethical considerations and out of respect for each of the nine Hall of Fame basketball players, the former Lobo prefers not to use any of their names outside of his dissertation research and publication.

“I want to honor our time and commitment,” LaSota said. “Each participant shared personal and intimate life experiences from throughout their entire lives.”

Within the study, LaSota interviewed nine retired NBA players who have all been inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Their careers range from 1958 to 2007 - a span of nearly 50 years in the NBA. LaSota traveled to the East Coast to interview all nine participants; the oldest participant was 82 years old to the youngest who was 52 years old.

“One of the most interesting elements of this study is the span of history it covers,” LaSota said. “The oldest participant played during the Civil Rights Era. The NBA has changed in so many ways and players are entering the league younger than ever. So one of the questions that arose during these interviews was: Are NBA players today receiving proper mentorship? Because a lot of the coaches and peers in the ‘70s and ‘80s seemed to take on more of a mentoring role that went beyond the sport of basketball.”

LaSota said the study focused on the following questions.

  • What were their mentoring experiences?
  • Who (if any) were the mentors that helped them get to the NBA and achieve success after entering the league?
  • What impact has mentoring had on their lives?
  • What qualities/characteristics did their mentors possess?

“All nine participants identified that their most impactful mentoring happened prior to ever reaching the NBA,” LaSota said. “That emphasized the importance of parents, teachers, coaches, peers, and community support.”

“Two key lessons I hope people will take away from this study are the importance of effective communication skills and the importance of not fearing failure." - Mark LaSota, UNM doctoral graduate 

2019-7-24 Naismith Memorial Basketball HOF 11
Lasota visited the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in July

LaSota spent nearly three years pursuing this study, which he described as an “arduous journey,” but one he pursued to inspire his students for years to come.

“It was a dream of mine and I had nothing to lose,” LaSota said. “It’s so important for people in positions of power and influence to give back and take the time to provide guidance for young people in our communities.”

Through this study and his vast experience in this classroom, LaSota also learned it takes being a receptive mentee to benefit fully from mentorship.

“I can’t stress enough that young people have to remain humble, respectful and intuitive,” he said. “Seek out mentors and seek as many as you can find.”