Sacrifice, Family and Basketball: The Story of Davin White

 

By: Peyton Wesner | @pcwesner


Davin White has always taken the road less traveled

OCTOBER 19, 2006, is a date Davin White remembers well.

The 6-foot-1 guard sat on the Phoenix Suns’ bench at the then-named US Airways Center during a preseason game against the Sacramento Kings. White had signed with Phoenix the month prior and was itching to check into the game while the Suns pulled away from their divisional foe. 

As his teammates urged Suns head coach Mike D’Antoni to “Put White in,” the Cal State Northridge product remained in his warmups and never stepped foot on the court that evening. Before White could leave the team’s facility, the Phoenix, Ariz., native received news that changed his life: he had been released from his hometown team.

“That was the lowest point of my basketball career,” said White, who will play with Team 23 for a fifth consecutive summer. “I worked so hard to get there and for them to tell me it’s not basketball-related, but more financial, that was when I felt like politics was working against me because of the path I took.”

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White’s journey to professional basketball player is one less traveled. He did not play in AAU and went to junior college. After time at Chandler-Gilbert Community College — where White still holds the single-season record for points — the JUCO star transferred to Cal State Northridge of the Big West Conference. Even as one of the Matadors’ top scorers, White went undrafted in the 2005 NBA Draft before receiving his opportunity the following year.

“He just missed his shot and that’s something I think about a lot,” said Team 23 general manager Mike Illiano. “He’s one of the best players I’ve ever seen that is not in the NBA.”

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RON KATICH WAS adamant. He and Illiano were building a roster for TBT 2015 when White’s name was mentioned. Katich had seen White in a $25,000 tournament in Syracuse, N.Y., three years prior and understood that for Team 23 to be successful the guard had to be a part of the roster.

“Ron was involved in that tournament,” recalled Illiano. “He was like, ‘We got to take Davin! If we are doing this, we got to take Davin!’”

White was never skeptical of the tournament. Although TBT was entering just its second summer, White had plenty of experience — both directly and indirectly — with money tournaments. Many of his friends had played in events with cash prizes at Indian reservations and other various locations.

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“I was always in the cash tournament circle. So when I heard about TBT, I was like, ‘A million dollars? We might as well try this,’” said White. “That prize pool was a lot bigger than the others I played in. So I was like, ‘I might as well go and give this a chance. What can hurt?’”

TBT was slightly different four years ago. 97 teams played in a single-elimination, winner-take-all tournament with a $1 million purse. Seven wins were required to hoist the hardware and split the cash prize.

Team 23, a 13-seed in the West regional, marched through the bracket with upset win after upset win. While White led the offensive charge with multiple 20-point outbursts, two-year NBA veteran Larry Owens anchored the defense. From their first game onward, the Arizona locals were an in sync duo.

“With Davin and I, we have that wavelength of high IQ and knowing good spacing or a good ball screen or where to be on the court,” said Owens. “That’s the chemistry we have.”

Team chemistry and White’s game-high 34 points kept Team 23 within striking distance against Overseas Elite in the championship that year. And, if it were not for a lack of timeouts, TBT’s most dominant team might not be 25-0 today.

 

“It was the best TBT single-game performance,” said Illiano of White’s play in Team 23’s two-point loss. “He couldn’t miss. If he would have had the ball in the last possession, it wouldn’t have shocked me if he would have won the game.”

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THE OPPORTUNITY COST of basketball is now greater for the 37-year-old White. The father of three children — ages three, four and ten — misses daily joys due to the sport. 

“Basketball takes so much time away from my family. I feel like they are missing a part of me that I think they need more of,” said White, a player for Iberostar Tenerife in Spain the last four seasons. “I didn’t have parents. I feel like I didn’t have enough.”

 

Leola White, Davin’s grandmother, was the parental figure in his adolescence. Leola raised both Davin and his older sister, making daily sacrifices to support her grandchildren. From purchasing his shoes to signing him up for a gym membership, Leola fully supported what became Davin’s livelihood and profession.

“She gave up everything,” said White. “Everything she did was to make sure I was not in the streets. She supported basketball so much."

“Whether it was me going to college or helping me out with a car for college, she was always there when I needed her.”

As Davin grows older, his last game becomes a reality. This truth, however, fills him with peace. He welcomes more afternoons of being his children’s playground, swinging his two sons and one daughter on his arms, and watching his youngest son dribble a basketball.

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“I’ll leave a basketball around the house and if he picks it up and dribbles it, I’m the happiest dad ever,” said White. “It’s going to be a happy transition and a new chapter of my life.”

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AT LEAST ONE MORE TOURNAMENT awaits White before retirement. The 13-game veteran will travel to meet his Team 23 teammates later this month for regional play in a very competitive Greensboro Regional, hosted by Team CP3

Nearly 13 years removed from his release by the Suns, White says he feels healthier today than in past summers.

“This year, everyone is saying, ‘You’re old,’” said White, who ranks second in TBT history with 53 three-pointers made. “I feel great. If I stay in the shape I am now for TBT, I think the sky’s the limit.”

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White cannot confirm whether this summer will be his last in a Team 23 uniform. Last year, his focus fixated too much on the possibility of playing one last time, which distracted him in an uncharacteristic six-point performance.

“I don’t want to get so caught up in the moment. My focus is to win games,” said White. “I’m just going out to play. I’m just trying to put the ball in the hole and win.”

When the ball is tipped in The Fieldhouse at Greensboro Coliseum Complex, White will try to lead Team 23 to its first victory since July 15, 2017. Win-or-lose, Illiano will always hold White in the highest regard but not simply for his on-court presence.

“He’s a good dad. He’s a person that you are proud to call, ‘friend,’” said Illiano. “There is no Team 23 without him. I’m forever grateful.”

If a moment arises in which the game becomes difficult for White this summer, the backcourt general will think of his grandmother, now 90 years old. This source of motivation inspires him when faced with a challenge, no matter how insurmountable it may be.

“Every time I step on the court and I do have hard times, I think, ‘Well, my grandma had hard times and she pushed through it,’” said White. “I’ve been playing for her my whole life. She is the one who made me so strong.”