Centre Basketball: Injury leaves Whiteside with more patience, more appreciation for the game
Donovan Whiteside of Centre College puts up a shot during the Colonels' victory over Brescia last week. Whiteside, a junior who was hampered by foot injuries during his first two seasons at Centre, currently ranks third on the team in scoring (9.5 points per game) and second in rebounds (5.4 per game). (Mike Marsee / January 15, 2013)
Whiteside is more physically sound than he has been since his earliest days at Centre College, now that a foot injury that robbed him of parts of his first two collegiate seasons is behind him.
And he might be mentally stronger as well, with a better appreciation for being able to play the game.
“Yeah, it was pretty frustrating, but being able to play now, I’m glad. It was all a process,” Whiteside said. “I definitely think I am (stronger), just because of recognizing the work and being grateful for it and understanding that I need to take it slow and not try to do everything all at once, and just developing some patience.”
Patience has been a critical part of Whiteside’s training regimen for almost two years, and now the junior guard has been rewarded for that patience with the kind of season he has been waiting for.
“It definitely feels great considering the work I’ve been putting in,” he said.
Whiteside came to Centre through one of those happy accidents of recruiting — the Colonels’ coaches were looking at video of one of his teammates when he caught their eye — but he soon fell victim to a more unfortunate set of circumstances.
“He had a really good freshman year. Toward the end of the year you could make an argument that he was the best freshman in our conference. Then last year he hurt his foot and never got in any rhythm,” Centre coach Greg Mason said.
The trouble actually started in February 2011 when Whiteside injured the big toe on his right foot.
“I thought it was turf toe, but I really had broken my toe. I was kind of struggling with that, but it carried over into the spring, and that’s when I really found out I had broken my foot,” he said. “I rehabbed, and then came back about the end of July. That’s when I had about a month and a half to start training, and then I reinjured it.”
Two weeks before the start of his sophomore season, he suffered what he later learned was a stress fracture in the same tie he had broken a few months earlier. He didn’t start practicing until Jan. 1, and he played in only 16 games, averaging 8.2 points and 4.5 rebounds, down from 9.0 points and 5.5 rebounds in his freshman season.
“I was a little subconsciously favoring it, plus I was basically doing my preseason along with the most important part of the season, which is really difficult to do,” Whiteside said.
This season Whiteside ranks third on the team in scoring with 9.5 points per game, second in rebounds (5.4), third in assists (2.2) and first in steals (2.1). And Mason said he gives the Colonels something they wouldn’t otherwise have at the small forward spot.
“He’s a physical wing presence for us, something that, other than Donovan, I’m not necessarly sure that we have,” Mason said.
Whiteside said he played point guard in high school, when he was “6-foot or 6-1” in his senior year as compared to “6-3, almost 6-4 now.”
“And when I came here I played the two my freshman year, so for me to be considered a big man on the floor, it’s a little weird,” he said. “I’m getting used to it. I have to recognize my position, but it’s good because we have a good chemistry on the team. We flow together well.”
Whiteside wouldn’t even have been on the team if the son of the winningest coach in college basketball history hadn’t been thinking about attending Centre three years ago.
He and Tyler Summitt, the son of former Tennessee women’s coach Pat Summitt, were teammates from the sixth grade through their high school years at The Webb School in Knoxville, Tenn. Whiteside said he was probably headed for Furman when he heard from Centre out of the blue after the Colonels’ coaches saw him on Summitt’s highlight video.
“He came up here on a visit, and he gave them a highlight tape,” Whiteside said. “I had no idea who Centre was, and coach Mason and (former assistant) coach (Kyle) Hankins, they kept contacting me and contacting me, and I was kind of ignoring them, to be honest. And they showed up at a game and I was like, ‘OK, we’re interested,’ and then when I found out what kind of academic school it was, I was like, ‘OK, Centre, I’ll consider it.’ I came on a few visits, and next thing you know I was here.”
Whiteside said he knows he made the right choice, and he’s grateful for the assist from Summitt, who became a walk-on player at Tennessee and is now an assistant coach with the Marquette women.
“I’ve thanked him a few times. When he was playing with UT’s basketball team, we played ball in the summer sometimes,” he said.
Now Whiteside is thankful to be back on the floor on a regular basis, and he said he’s sure he has improved in several areas.
“I think so, considering I haven’t played in a while. I never felt like I was a hundred percent at any point last year,” he said. “My athleticism, being able to get rebounds, and I think my jump shot has improved, considering I’ve been putting in a lot of work in on that.”
Centre (10-3, 3-1 Southern Athletic Association) is working to improve as well, and Whiteside said the team is continuing to grow and develop, even if it isn’t as fast as the Colonels would like.
“As a team, we haven’t exactly reached our goals, but that’s also understanding it’s a process and being patient,” he said. “That’s what I’ve learned from my injury: You’ve just got to be patient, and if we continue to just work, everything’s going to work itself out.”