"Mark Eaton? Never heard of him."
Such were the remarks of former Utah Jazz coach Frank Layden before Eaton came to the team in 1982, the former NBA All-Star recalled.
Now, nearly everyone knows the 7-foot-4-inch Eaton. But the successes of the mechanic-turned-NBA-All-Star did not come overnight. He relied on goal-setting and persistence - values that can pay off for anyone, Eaton told about 150 schoolchildren and at-risk students last week.
"People think that you just wake up one day and you're an NBA basketball player. But there are plans that had to be made and goals that had to be set and hard work in pursuing those dreams and goals," he said.
Eaton's remarks came in a presentation for the I Can Co., headed by Steve Woerner of Florida. Woerner, a high-school dropout, learned the value of self-motivation and goal-setting later in life and presents his philosophy, "If you think you can or can't, you're probably right," across the country.
"I believe with this idea, kids carrying this forward can change a culture in the next 10 years," said Woerner, who recently moved to Utah.
Glendale area students attending the presentation received an "I Can" can, which includes a pamphlet of motivational phrases, which Woerner calls "a coach in a can," and provides a place for written goals.
But Eaton's success story was the highlight, even if he didn't offer autographs.
Eaton, teased in California schools for his size, played just three seconds of high school basketball, in a game his team was losing by 20 points. He sat on the bench the rest of the time.
Eaton met a junior college coach while working as a mechanic. The coach offered him one-on-one training. It took months to loosen his hand joints, used to being wrapped around a wrench, just so he could catch the ball, he said.
But after taking the coach's advice to set his sights on the NBA and with intense strength training throughout his career, Eaton found himself at UCLA and later, the Utah Jazz, where he played 12 years.
The Jazz retired Eaton's No. 53 jersey in 1996. Before back problems forced his retirement, the center blocked 3,064 shots in his career, second only to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the NBA's career list.
"If you have a goal, if you have a dream, you've got to pursue it," said Eaton, founder of The Mark Eaton Stand Tall For Youth Foundation. "You can do it. I'm here as living proof."