March 26 was a cold, crisp and clear day in the mountains of Eastern Washington. The sun shone brightly and was only obscured by the clouds of warm breath emanating from his nostrils. It was a typical day in Eastern Washington for this time of year, at least, in terms of the weather. It would not be a typical day in terms of sports.
As David Whiteagle walked the parking lot from the bus to the gym, could he have any idea of what would take place that day in Kennewick, WA? The Northern Cascade Conference (NAIA) was having its tournament finals today, and David was going to be featured as the power forward for the Snake River Canyon College Mudtoads. Heíd rewritten several record books. David was now the proud owner of virtually every offensive and defensive statistic for the Mudtoads as well as most conference records, too. Of course, neither the conference, nor the Mudtoads, were very impressive, that is, until David came along.
David Harris was born to Louis and Marie Harris of the Colville Indian Reservation in northeastern Washington State. Reservation life was hard and it was about all David ever knew. It wasnít until he was in high school that he first set foot on non-reservation land; the basketball team went to Wenatchee for a tournament. But other than tribal society and the Grand Coulee Dam, there really wasnít much in Davidís life.
Two parts of his life, though, would occupy the bulk of his time; his Native American heritage and basketball. When he was about 15, he talked his parents into allowing him to have his name legally changed from Harris to Whiteagle. It was the culmination of a vast surge of pride in his background. He wasnít even really sure if it was a correct name for his tribe, but it sounded good and it felt good.
Thatís how basketball was for David, as well. He idolized John Stockton and the unselfish way he played the game. David always felt that that was how the game should be played and that that was exactly how he would play it. He eventually became adept at being a playmaker; the ultimate teammate. But, around about the time David had his name-change become official, something seemingly profound happened: he found his shot.
By his senior season, double-doubles were routine for David. And, as he learned more about the defensive end of the game, triple-doubles started piling up. Davidís play took his high school to the state championship. David, however, came down with a very bad case of the flu. Even with a 103 degree fever, David felt he could play. His parents, doctor and coach all disagreed, however, and so David and his teammates had to suffer their only defeat of the season.
It must have been very disappointing for David to have been so ignored right after high school. Not one division I school came looking for him. Perhaps it was because of that last, missed game. Many on the reservation suspected something else, though. Thereís a theory about Native American basketball stars: they all seem to shine very brightly and then burn out very quickly. Itís an odd pattern and nobody really knows for sure why this is, but it does seem to be the case. And maybe recruiters were afraid of that happening in Davidís case. I donít know the truth of it all and I probably never will but it does seem a little more than strange to me.
Anyway, after sitting out one year, David was convinced by his old high school coach to play for a friend of his who coached an NAIA team in Idaho. David thought about it for a bit and decided to take his coach up on the offer. Soon, David was on a bus headed for Rexburg, Idaho.
His first week of practice was an eye-opener. These guys were much better than heíd ever played against. Not that he didnít feel up to it but he felt much more like a little fish in a bigger pond than he did on the reservation. Besides, heíd spent an entire year off; it was to be expected that heíd be rusty, right?
It didnít take long for him to get used to his new surroundings, however. His shooting and his unselfish play had him as the teamís sixth man in a hurry. He never started that first year, but he got very nearly as many minutes on the floor as the starters did. He even won the award as the Northern Cascadeís freshman of the year.
That was two years ago. David was now a junior and things were starting to really come to fruition. Here was his team, the Snake River Canyon College Mudtoads in the conference championship game for the first time in decades. They were facing the perennial champs, the Eastern Siskiou Mountain State University Chicken Hawks. Win this game and the Mudtoads get a trip back east to play for the national title. It meant exposure; visibility. And David wanted that.
Not that he was a complete unknown. Gonzaga, Portland State and Southern Utah had all asked about him after his sophomore season but David felt a level of gratitude to Snake River Canyon College and loyalty to Mudtoadsí fans and so he stayed on. But today, he could do something for the college and for himself. And he was determined to do just that.
Wearing the green and black Mudtoads road uniform, David played the game of his life. He scored 43 points by halftime shooting 87% and hitting 9 of 11 three-pointers. In the second half, he played ďball distributorĒ racking up 14 assists to go with his 10 in the first half. He also pulled down 12 rebounds in the game for his 9th triple-double of the season. But, more importantly, Snake River Canyon beat Eastern Siskiou, 125-98, winning the conference and giving the team the opportunity of a lifetime.
And Davidís final numbers? 51 points, 24 assists, 12 rebounds. And, for David, these are very average numbers. Yes, he usually does better. Nevertheless, the Mudtoads beat the Chicken Hawks by 27 points so he obviously did his job. My question is this: will anyone other than fans of the Northern Cascade Conference (NAIA) take notice of this guy? Hello! NBA!
So, keep your eyes open out there, everyone. And when you hear the name, David Whiteagle, pay attention. You may just be watching the next Michael Jordan.