On Point Exclusive Written by Jas Grewal
The slow saturation of Canadian basketball players making clamour in Division I basketball was unprecedented nearly a decade ago. Nowadays, you would be hard-pressed to find many states in the U.S. that do not have a Canadian student-athlete at a local university or college (no matter the level of competition). As the years roll by and basketball becomes more and more widespread in Canada, it’s becoming exceedingly apparent that this is a sport to stay – a game that will slowly grow into fruition as more and more Canadians make headway into Division I basketball (or play in the professional ranks).
Dakota Whyte – an Ajax, Ontario native who’s in the midst of a phenomenal junior year with the (8-13) Wisconsin Badgers – is one of those players making her mark in Division I basketball (NCAAW). Although her team’s record isn’t among the top ranked – the Badgers are five games under .500 in a difficult Big Ten conference amongst top-heavy powerhouses such as Maryland and Iowa – her individual success and overall growth from year one to her now junior season is noteworthy.
From a statistical stand point, Whyte has steadily improved her numbers across the board over her short tenure at UW: her points per game average has increased dramatically from 2.4 in her freshman season to now 10.4 (+8); she’s averaging two more rebounds (3.3 rig) and clocking close to 31 minutes per game in 21 contests (and has started all but one game) – a substantial increase from year one where she was registering just 11 minutes per game.
#1 Dakota Whyte
On the court, there’s no doubt that Whyte’s made sufficient strides and improvements to her game to put herself amongst the top tier guards in Division I basketball, but it’s off the court where the 5’8” point guard talks about internal influences in her life that have been instrumental to her gradual improvement.
“My Mom’s been an incredible person to me. When you ask about family, she’s someone that’s been there for me since day one. She’s my number one fan and also my biggest critic,” said the Badger’s floor general.
“For me I would say 90 percent of it [my improvement] has been mental. Physically I’m pretty confident in the fact that I can play the game and that I have the skillset to be successful. But I think that when it comes to this level, it’s all mental – everyone can shoot, everyone can pass, everyone can play defence – but it’s how you play the game that dictates your success.”
She also gives credence to Coach Bobbie Kelsey who, despite being tough on her, has had an unparalleled influence on Whyte’s playing career at Wisconsin.
“Coach Bobbie (Kelsey) has been a phenomenal person to me in terms of not only being a coach but also a motherly figure. She cares about what’s best for me always, and not being the one to give me a pat on the back or say I’m doing good. She always gives me tough love. She kind of reminds me of my Mom in that sense where she always pushes me to my limits. I mean ever since I stepped foot on campus she’s always made sure that I was doing the best that I can at everything in terms of school, working out, lifting, pretty much everything, and it’s helped a lot.”
It was a challenging freshman season for the Ajax native as minutes came sparingly and the transition to the NCAA level was somewhat tedious, especially for a young girl coming from Canada – not to mention the Badgers weren’t overly successful in the win loss column (12-19), either; however, through perseverance and tough loving from her caring mother, Leisa Washington, Dakota has been able to turn the tide and make the necessary strides individually in order to help lead her team to the best of her abilities.
“You have to suffer to prosper,” said Leisa when asked about Whyte’s improvement from year one to her junior season.
“You have to fail in order to succeed.”
It’s an expression that – although may seem cliché- forces one to cultivate thick skin and develop a level of buoyancy towards adversity.
“I always tell her that nothing good comes easy. You have to suffer to prosper. I’m sure she’s told you already but I’m her biggest critic and I’m very, very hard on her”, said Washington. “There are times when she will call home really frustrated – and there are times when I sympathise with her in those instances – but being her number one fan I try to be honest and completely open with her. I never lie to her. She can attain anything she wants to in life. Nothing is impossible.”
On the court, Leisa credits Whyte’s improved jump shot as one of the key reasons for her dramatic improvement. As a result, teams have been less inclined to give the Notre Dame Catholic (HS) alumni much space from the perimeter – an indication of respect from the opposition, and a sign of improvement made by Whyte.
Poise is another facet of Whyte’s disposition (and overall game) that has steadily improved over her years at Wisconsin. Had you asked the 5’8” phenom how she would’ve reacted to criticism or to a bad shooting night in her freshman year, you may have broken every bit of confidence she fostered; however, criticism and hardship are parts of the game that have made Whyte so resilient and durable (especially now) – and she’ll be the first to admit it.
“In my freshman and sophomore year I was pretty negative and hard on myself. I didn’t always believe in the things that I could do, and sometimes it showed. Now, I have a lot of confidence in my abilities on the court. In terms of this season, knowing that I scored 15 points one game, I know that I can do it for the rest of the season. It’s all about believing.”
Leisa attributes Dakota’s freshman and sophomore seasons, and experiences as a whole, as the key reasons for the junior guard’s newfound sense of composure and comfort on the court.
“Dakota’s poise has really improved over the years,” said Leisa when asked about what really sticks out in Dakota’s game from her freshman year to her current season. “She’s not as emotional; she can gather herself in the middle of a game when she’s losing and continuously play and fight,” a far cry from her freshman year where negative dialogue had a negative effect on Whyte’s on court play.
Whyte’s internal support – from her teammates, coaching staff and, most importantly, her family – coupled with external encouragement from an unconditional, and at times, overwhelming Madison, Wisconsin community has been extremely conducive to her improved confidence level. There are plenty of occasions where fan support will give Whyte a boost of morale, or give her reassurance that UW is where she belongs. There’s times where a young child will be wearing a ‘Dakota Whyte’ jersey, or other moments where she would receive recognition and praise about a game from the night before, as Leisa recalls. “Dakota walked into Starbucks one time and the girl said, ‘Dakota, I heard you had five steals, that’s amazing’. They know who all of the players are, they support each other, and they have a vested interest in her. There’s really nothing like it, and I’m just so happy and proud of her.”
All of these subtle but invaluable experiences have certainly brought out the best in Whyte, both on and off of the court – and it’s partly why she has the utmost confidence in the Badgers winning more games as the season progresses. As the prevalent theme in this article may indicate, it’s all about confidence and having the faith to achieve any sort of success.
“It starts with believing, especially playing in a tough conference like the Big Ten. I think that this league is so good that anyone can win. I mean, the other day Purdue beat Minnesota and we’ve already beaten Purdue, and we’ve lost to Minnesota, so it’s really anyone’s game. It’s just about who comes out and plays the basketball they can. It starts with a mindset in practice that ‘we can do anything’.”
It’s a rare sense of optimism that isn’t adopted by many her age – especially someone who has to endure the plight of a grueling basketball schedule and, at the same time, maintain high obedience to her academic endeavours. But through sufficient support and a growing sense of confidence, there’s no doubt that Whyte’s future is extremely bright, and to steal the words of her mother, Leisa, ‘what’s for you will never miss you’- a sentiment that’s stuck with Whyte ever since she was a young child; a constant reminder that hard work eventually pays off.
Written by Jaspreet Grewal for On Point Basketball
Photos Courtesy of the University of Wisconsin & Canada Basketball
Edited by Drew Ebanks