Troy Whittington: Rising from the Floor

Troy Whittington:  Rising from the Floor

If you are reading this to find out how high Troy Whittington can jump, how many dunks he has this season and/or blocks, you will be disappointed.

If you were at the home regular season Amherst game and saw Whittington take a hard fall on the court late in the game going for a rebound, you are on the right track.

When Whittington landed awkwardly versus Amherst you could have measured the collective gasp of the crowd from a block away.

Whittington quickly bounded to his feet and his smile let all know he was okay. The Eph faithful showed their appreciation with a huge ovation.

As a freshman Troy Whittington had an even more terrible fall in a game at Lehman College. He went up for a rebound and landed awkwardly. Most people thought he had hit his head. Whittington immediately launched into a seizure that required almost every one of his teammates to hold him down. "I was down for a long time and I kept trying to get up and guys kept holding me down and trying to calm me down," recalled Whittington. Whittington was finally stretchered off the court and taken to the hospital.

He was off the court and away from school for over three weeks. After countless MRIs and neurological examinations it was finally determined that the seizure had been caused by dehydration and not his head hitting the court.

Whittington thought the way he cruised through Friends Seminary in Manhattan would be how he would cruise through Williams, but he got a rude awakening. "When I came back after my injury the season was almost over and I got almost no time." Now not only was he not playing, he was struggling academically.

The Lehman game seemed like it was going to be a turning to point for Whittington, up to the moment he crashed to the floor. One of the Lehman players was eating up the Ephs inside and he was using a lot of 'city moves' to get to the rim. "I told coach [Dave] Paulsen I could stop him, because I knew the city game and I played the city game," said Whittington. Paulsen put Whittington in and Troy neutralized the Lehman player first with a block and then posterized him with a thunderous dunk. "I was feeling good about making the most of my chance to finally get on the court and now I was going to show I deserved more time, and then I fell."

Whittington was one of eight Eph students who spoke recently as part of the "Yard by Yard" presentation at Claiming Williams featuring some of the most recognizable student faces on campus talking about stereotypes and "being the man on campus." On the stage that day were prominent Eph athletes, actors, dancers, group leaders, and some in too many groups to list here.

Troy is a facotor at both ends
of the court

It was striking to hear all of the participants in "Yard by Yard" echo one familiar theme – they had all overcome their own assessment of inadequacy on campus upon first arriving, before they began to thrive.

Whittington's inadequacies were apparent to many around him early on, but not Troy. Things had always seemed to come easy to Whittington. He excelled in everything he did without having to work very hard. "From the second people met me here they knew me as 'Troy the basketball player' and I liked that because I knew I could play," he said.

Whittington had Division I and Ivy League offers that he turned aside to come to Williams. He knew from the start he had the physical skills to play at Williams, after all Paulsen told him he could be one of the greatest players ever for the Ephs during the recruiting process. "I let all of that get into my head and when I wasn't playing I couldn't figure out why, and it started to take me down," stated Whittington. He was supposed to be this big star and he was not getting on the court.

Whittington asked Paulsen after the season why he didn't get more time and he remembers Paulsen told him, "you have a Cadillac body, but you treat it like a Subaru."

Whittington's cruise through Williams academically didn't seem to find the same smooth waters he had found at Friends.

"When Paulsen left for Bucknell and [Mike] Maker was hired I thought I would get more time, but what I learned quickly was that with coach Maker if you don't do the little things like lifting, working out, and play hard in practice every day, you don't play."

When junior center Joe Geoghegan went down with an injury Whittington's sophomore year Whittington was sure his time had come, but he was wrong again. Whittington reports that Maker told him he was going with Ethan Timmins-Schiffman because Ethan comes early to practice, works hard, and he knew he could count on him. Maker also told Whittington he wasn't even sure Troy would be back next year. Whittington was a little set back by that assessment by Maker.

It wasn't until the end of his sophomore year that Whittington started to fully understand. After a humbling loss at Middlebury to close out the season Whittington was troubled by two things he saw that day. "I'll never forget how the Middlebury fans reacted to beating us up and seeing Blake Schultz crying his eyes out because the season was over," recalled Whittington. "Watching Blake cry I realized he was crying because he had invested so much in the season than I had invested."

In the spring after his sophomore season Whittington's mother Madeleine came to campus for a visit. Whittington was deeply shaken to see his mom so hurt by the things she had been hearing about him. "She didn't disown me, but she was very disappointed in me – I was her golden boy and I was not delivering," said Whittington.

Tired of hearing how great he could be if only he would…. Whittington made the commitment to bring out his full potential. He lifted in the off-season, worked out, and along with Schultz dominated the pickup games. "Blake and I could not be on the same team, because no one could stop us," he said.

Another defining moment for Whittington came in the early part of his junior season when he began to fully appreciate teammate Charlie Cates. "Charlie is one of the biggest positive peer influences in my life," he said. "Here's a guy who knew he would not see time on the court and he worked hard every day, just to make me better. Charlie ate well, went to bed early, and gave everything he had with little chance of seeing the court. There was no way I could look at Charlie and think I had worked hard enough."

Then there was Blake Schultz, All-American as a senior, who also influenced Troy. "Blake is just 'turbo' – all out, all the time. First to arrive at practice, last to leave… If you open your eyes to what is going on around you – you can see things and you begin to understand," commented Whittington. When you understand you can mature.

"If anyone had told me Troy's sophomore year what kind of a player, person, leader, and teammate he would turn out to be as a senior I wouldn't have believed it," remarked Mike Maker. "I believe my job is to teach basketball, but also to prepare these young men for life after Williams… I was concerned about Troy as a sophomore, but now I'm excited for him after Williams."

"His maturation as a person, with the help of many faculty members and administrators here, the intimacy of Williams College if you will, had a lot to do with who Troy is now," stated Maker. "In my opinion, he is the national player of the year. He is large factor in the game on both ends of the floor. He is respected by his teammates as the team leader. They feed off his energy, enthusiasm, and team-first approach."

Whittington is now thinking of playing overseas for a year or two before embarking on a marketing career with any large company that advertises heavily in sports.

"I'm blessed to coach such a wonderful person," Maker stated as he wiped a tear from his eye. "Sorry, I just get emotional when I see a player who has worked so hard to reach his potential."

"You know who Troy is," Maker asks rhetorically. "He is Bill Russell. He's an undersized, left handed center with the ability to take over a game and he has a will to win that cannot be measured." For those too young to have seen Bill Russell in his Celtics days know that Russell played on 11 NBA Championship teams in 13 years and is considered both the greatest team champion of all-time and the ultimate team player.

Russell was known to get so psyched up to play in big games that he would work himself to the point where he had to vomit before taking the court. Whittington has taken to banging the chair next to him on the bench three times with vigor before he runs out during introductions.

Duffy Martin with her favorite Eph

"He's just awesome," said Whittington's biggest fan, 11-year old Duffy Martin of Williamstown. "He slam dunks and he's so tough defensively. He also is so nice when told he played a good game. He pays attention to the fans. Plus, the best is when he slams on the chair and gets everyone fired up. He's exciting to watch."

"Man, I'm going to have a tough time when Troy graduates and before that at his last game," added Maker. "I mean I'll be proud of him, and excited for him, but I will miss him so much because I've never been this close to a player who has improved more and meant so much to a team, a community, and a campus."  A few more tears come out of Maker's eyes as he pauses to catch his breath.

Maker remembers when it turned around for Troy Whittington. "After his sophomore season Troy called me and told me his mom was up for a visit and he wanted to bring her by," recalled Maker. "I had never met his mom before, but when I did I saw immediately where his core values and substance come from. I'm pretty sure that's the day Troy decided to turn things around and maximize his potential."

Maturation as a person and a player, working hard on his deficiencies, and learning to be disciplined on defense, were all key ingredients to Whittington's success.

"Troy is such a freak athlete that many people easily see his quickness and athleticism, but miss his vision, basketball IQ, and how wonderful he is as a teammate," noted Maker.

"My staff and I get a lot of credit for developing Troy as a player and I'm sure we played a part in that, but really all of the credit goes to Troy," stated Maker.

"Make sure you note how tough Troy is," Maker advised. "The Middlebury game this year in the regular season where he and Andrew Locke collided, I was so busy pleading for a foul I did not realize Troy was bleeding. When I saw him I thought this is bad, really bad. He's done for the day."

Minutes later while Maker was trying to hold the Ephs together on the court in Whittington's absence, Maker got a chill when he heard behind him, the roll of applause and screaming. He knew Troy had returned. "You know what it was like? It was Willis Reed coming out of the tunnel [Willis Reed inspired the NY Knicks to a Game 7 win over the Lakers, when he limped onto the Madison Square Garden court and scored two early baskets on May 8, 1970]. With 8-10 staples in is head Troy controlled the end of that game – that's how tough he is!"

"I just hope people around here appreciate Troy for who he is," cautioned Maker. "They may never see a more athletic player here -- he's that good."

James Wang:  From Distance
February 3, 2011 James Wang: From Distance