Sweet Homecoming- Ken Rodriguez
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She remembers her first visit to US Airways Center, years ago, a fan in a throng of thousands. She cheered her hometown Phoenix Mercury, and afterwards, participated in a cool promotion.
The Mercury allowed each child one free throw. Davellyn Whyte got in line and waited her turn. She doesn’t recall the date, her age or the outcome of the game. But she does recall the excitement of standing on a WNBA court.
Whyte eyed the rim, raised the ball and released the shot. Did it strike iron? Bounce off the backboard? Hit nothing but air? Whyte remembers only that she missed. …
On July 10, Whyte entered US Airways Center again, this time, as a WNBA rookie guard, taking the court against the team she grew up cheering. In 10 minutes for the Silver Stars, Whyte made one assist, grabbed one rebound and attempted one free throw.
This time, she sank the shot. Dozens of friends, family members and old teammates cheered. What was it like to return home and help beat the Mercury, 88-80?
“It was an experience I can’t really describe because I grew up watching the Mercury and the Suns play in that arena,” Whyte says. “To actually be on that floor -- a floor I played on for different tournaments -- and having a WNBA jersey on was like your dream coming true.”
Through 20 games, Whyte is averaging 4.0 points and 1.6 assists off the bench, her role having increased as a result of Becky Hammon’s torn ACL.
The 16th pick in the 2013 WNBA Draft, Whyte arrived in San Antonio as a 5-11 shooting guard, a four-time All-Pac 12 selection with an ability to score. She finished her career at Arizona as the second-leading scorer in school history (2,059 points).
In San Antonio, Whyte has become more versatile, backing up Danielle Robinson at the point and Jia Perkins at the two guard spot. Combo guard is not a familiar role. “I was the two or the three growing up,” Whyte says. “I’ve always been bigger when I played for school. I could shoot the ball so I played out on the wings.”
Whyte began playing ball at 5, the tag-along shadow of a big brother baller, Thaddeus, older by four years. The game came naturally to her as it did to her father, Devon, who once declined a basketball scholarship to try pro baseball.
“Basketball,” Davellyn says, “was my father’s first love.”
Baseball worked out well. A center fielder, Devon (whose last name was spelled “W-h-i-t-e” throughout his career) played for six teams in 17 seasons, won three World Series (two with the Toronto Blue Jays, one with the Florida Marlins) and earned seven Gold Gloves.
“I wasn’t even interested in baseball until I started watching Yankee and Mets games on TV with my father,” Devon once told the Los Angeles Times. “Until then it was mostly basketball. I even had a scholarship offer to play basketball and baseball at Oklahoma State, but once I got drafted by the Angels, baseball became my favorite sport.”
Davellyn inherited her father’s athleticism and determination. “When I was 10,” she says, “I swore I was going to be the first girl to play in the NBA.”
Once she re-set her goal to reach the WNBA, Davellyn tore up the competition in Phoenix and throughout Arizona. She starred for her AAU team, which her father coached, and led her high school team, St. Mary’s, to the state championship as a freshman.
Success came with a price. Many coaches are notoriously harder on their own children than others, in part to quash the notion of favoritism. Devon was no different. “I literally got the wrath of it all,” Davellyn says. “I couldn’t make any mistakes.”
Playing for her father, Davellyn says, also came with benefits. “That gave me the tough skin that have,” she says. “I learned so much from him. He taught me lessons through basketball that carried over to life. Like how to represent the name on the back of the jersey you wear. How to carry yourself in the real world -- whether it’s how you dress, how you act or who you hang around.
“My father also taught me how to listen. He would say, ‘You have to listen if you’re going to get better. If you listen, you can learn a lot.’ Even now, coach (Dan Hughes) says I’m a good listener.”
Devon was born in Jamaica in 1962 with the last name “Whyte.” He came to the U.S. at age 9, and somewhere along the way, people began spelling it “White.” After retiring from baseball, Devon changed it back to the original “W-h-y-t-e.” A former coach in the Chicago White Sox organization, he now works for the Toronto Blue Jays.
Davellyn takes pride in her name, her heritage, in the baseball-playing father who taught her so much about basketball. Devon was a professional athlete, Davellyn wanted to be one, too. So she attended all-boys camps at US Airways Center, played on boys teams until she was 13, and became a star at the University of Arizona.
It all came back when she arrived at US Airways Center last month. Davellyn stepped onto the court, gazed into the stands and began warming up. Dribble, dribble, swish. Dribble, dribble swish. No longer a kid with a dream, she was all grown up now, making it all come true.