Serena Black: When did you first begin shooting?
Mark Wilson: I began playing pool at age 18, and during these times we did not have a professional tour. The B.C.A. U.S. Open Straight Pool in Chicago and a major 9-Ball tournament in Dayton, Ohio was about it. I first began really trying to play while in my first year of college. Prior to college I had always played every sport, but upon entering college on a partial baseball scholarship I was no longer good enough for the football and basketball teams. Pool took up those hours and a real passion was ignited… I was horrible, however.
SB: How old were you when you hit pro rating?
MW: My skills became professional level when I was 22 years old. I had been playing 10 hours a day, every day, for four years. I wanted this so bad, and was willing and keenly interested to pay the price.
SB: What is your favorite game to play?
MW: I grew up playing Straight Pool, but now recognize that Rotation is my preferred game.
SB: Who taught you to play? How did you pick up the game?
MW: I learned to play and had many mentors along the way. The first major influence is Jerry Briesath and “Sailor”—aka Frank Stellman—Jeff Carter, and later Efren Reyes. However I do not wish to minimize contributions from many others, because the trail to excellence has someone new nearly every day.
Competitors, professionals, amateurs, challengers, supporters, and beginners have all taught me, inspired me, and helped create my skills and passion. My parents taught me organization, discipline, and work ethic along with moral character and they contributed mightily to any success.
SB: Who have you helped train that has become an elite professional in the billiards industry?
MW: Today I have worked with many of the stars of the sport, but do not wish to take credit for their success because I have tried to train many other players who received the same guidance but have not exhibited much progress. The players that succeed are simply the hardest working.
SB: What was your biggest obstacle or weakness?
MW: I suppose the biggest obstacle that I had to conquer was simply earning a meager living at something that is filled with very little opportunity without going out and creating it.
SB: What sparked the idea for your book?
MW: The book was spawned from two reasons; one, pool is my field of expertise and two, the other pool books left out the extensive details regarding what is really required to become a highly proficient player.
Today, two copies of Play Great Pool reside in the Library of Congress. This fulfills my lifelong goal of both writing a book and leaving something behind to help the sport that I still love 40 years later.
SB: If there is one thing you would push for readers to understand, what would your message be?
MW: This book is not written for profit, and you do not see it advertised and heavily promoted for commercial success. I do not wish to cheapen the entire compilation by giving the appearance that this book was created to stimulate sales. It was actually created for like-minded students of the sport, such as myself, that would treasure the completeness of the material after a lifetime of sacrifice in pursuit of high performance pool playing. My goal was to reduce the amount of hours of investment to get other players to become highly proficient, not just a little better.
SB: How did you become coach of the Lindenwood Lions team?
MW: Nearly four years ago Lindenwood University contacted me to potentially build, recruit, and lead a just-authorized billiards program. The school loves to establish first-rate athletic programs to drive enrollment and to enable success—they are willing to issue scholarships for incoming billiard athletes.
This was my tipping point for accepting the position. Today we have 26 team members, including both of the current Men’s and Women’s National Collegiate Billiards Champions. The team players come from throughout the U.S. and Singapore, China, Nepal, Spain, and Italy.
The future of the sport is being created here, and I am very privileged to play a role. The personal satisfaction of passing along what others shared with me is very rewarding, and honors those who shared with myself.
We presently have a world class billiards arena and a great team attitude and character. The team presents one of the highest grade point averages on campus, and we are very proud of the efforts by everyone associated with the entire program. We also do some clinics and charitable exercises in addition to supporting other athletic programs at Lindenwood University. Please check out lindenwoodlionssls.edu then click on sports, and then billiards, to learn more about the team.
SB:How’d you become coach of the 2014 USA Mosconi team?
MW: Last year I became the coach for Team USA/Mosconi Cup twenty years after playing in the inaugural Mosconi Cup, and I even pocketed the final 9-Ball to win the Cup in year one. I also played in year two—getting to then come back as coach really fills out the cycle, and I am very proud of the opportunities that have come my way.The purpose of my being named coach was to restructure the team here in the U.S. and generate more of a team attitude.
This was something that I studied and thought about daily in an effort to regain a winning tradition again. Accomplishing our team goals was undertaken with maximum effort. Today it stands clear that we have much more in order to finish the job but we did establish a benchmark and structure for regaining growth and success within the U.S. regarding billiards excellence.
SB: Why did you choose the men that you did to represent our nation’s beloved sport? What qualities did they portray that drew your interest?
MW: I chose the most talented and skilled players that I could find that needed to be molded into becoming future leaders in the sport. They all possess youth and energy which is also in short supply for billiards.
SB: What is your greatest memory of your career in pocket billiards?
MW: Regarding career highlights, naturally the Mosconi Cup is huge, winning the Hong Kong 9-Ball Championship is another, appearing on ESPN and a Fox Sports as a commentator multiple times rates high also. I quickly get bored with describing the terrific opportunities that have been extended on my behalf but there have been many. Pool has provided the most fun life that I could have ever imagined, despite it’s hardships.
SB: What is the best pool hall you have ever visited, and your favorite tournament/competition to watch or play in?
MW: The best poolroom for me is where I spent my formative pool playing years, Cue-Nique Billiards in Madison, Wisconsin. I learned so much while there for eight years. The pool tournament that I love the very most is the U.S. Open 9-Ball Championship. This event is so prestigious and exciting.
SB: What advice do you have for someone who is looking to take this sport to a professional level? What advice do you have for one looking to make a career in the billiards industry?
MW: Anyone who wants to become a professional player needs to make sure that they are doing it for the right reason: pure love of playing the game.
Plan to have a sub-poverty level income level—you will not drive new cars, own a home, or be able to provide for children properly by just playing. Diversify your skills and look for some complimentary billiards related income streams. If you do not really love pool and are prone to be lazy, a carer in pool will feel like a prison sentence. However, if you sincerely love pool, it will be a great life.
SB: Do you have anything to add that we should know about you, Mark Wilson?
MW: I love my wife and family, the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team, and the sport of pool. I still want to give back and see the day that our sport gains the acceptance and place that it deserves.