Keeping A Promise For Rollie Massimino Delayed Stanley Whittaker´s(UBSC Raiffeisen Graz) Professional Career But It Was All Worth It

Stanley Whittaker learning from the master Rollie Massimino

Stanley Whittaker tearing up the first division Austria

I remember the early spring of 1985 as if it was yesterday. Playing football, basketball, street hockey and baseball with my best friend Tom then were things we did on a normal basis and pretending to be players as we made kids dunks on a lowered basket was the kind of entertainment that kids got back in the day. I vividly remember that during the 1985 NCAA tournament always being out during the day or under the flood lights playing and when the 2 teams were set for the NCAA final with Georgetown and Villanova, I had no choice to be the 2 guards David Wingate and Gary Mclain while my friend Tom who physically was a lot bigger was able to play the 2 stars Patrick Ewing and Ed Pickney. Of course, we put the ball down and watched the final and it was one that the world would never forget as Villanova did the impossible beating Georgetown which today still stands as one of the greatest NCAA final upsets in the history of the league. The reason why I brought up this story was because of the great late coach Rolle Massimino who coached the Villanova team to victory. The New Jersey native coached an incredible 43 years with 19 at Villanova. When I prepared an interview for American Stanley Whittaker, the name of Massimino popped up and bingo my childhood sprang up into my face again. Whittaker had the pleasure to have had coach Mass coach him at Keiser(NAIA) right before he unfortunately passed away in 2017. Whittaker is one of so many guys journeying around Europe that have their own separate special story of struggle as well as success and a lot of why the American is where he is today dominating the Austrian first division is Massimino. Massimino has had such a gigantic effect on Whittaker on and off the court. Not only on the court at Keiser, but also off the court which delayed the professional career of Whittaker for years. “I promised my late great coach Rollie Massimino “may he Rest In Peace” that I would get my bachelor’s degree. He put me in position where I was able to do an additional year at Keiser University and get my Bachelor’s. So I graduated in May of 2018. But after that, I think it took me so long to get a professional contract because people didn’t think I was worth an opportunity. I didn’t play Division 1, I didn’t really know who to look to for help and assistance, so that’s what I feel is the reason it took longer for me. Having the opportunity to be coached by coach Rollie Massimino was a blessing. He helped my game so much, he taught me so much about the mental aspect of the game. I was able to think the game at a much higher level with coach Mass. Being cerebral is the biggest impact coach Mass had on me especially in my transitioning into becoming a professional. But most importantly, the impact he had on me off the court is what I cherish the most. He instilled so many real life lessons in me, helped me out in so many ways, he was much more than just a coach to me! And I am forever grateful and thankful for coach Mass”, warned Stanley Whittaker. Coach Massimino passed away on August 30, 2017 and Whittaker is extremely appreciative that he will always have one specific special memory with the man who had a huge role in shaping him to being the man and player he is today. “Coach Mass and I shared a bunch of moments together on and off the court. During my recruiting process after I finished up my 2nd year in JUCO, Coach Mass came to my home in Philadelphia and visited my family and I. This was my first time seeing him in person after my visit to Keiser University. This moment was special because as busy as Coach Mass was he took the time out of his day and came to visit my family and I. I truly knew then that he really wanted me to join his team in Florida, so that was a very cool moment we shared together, and my family got to meet him so that made it much more special! My mother tends to ask me do I still remember when Coach Mass came to visit, so it’s great to know that she still holds on to that moment”, remembered Stanley Whittaker.

Patrick Ewing with a Patrick Ewing Jr autograph Miles Schmidt-Scheuber got in 2012 when Ewing´s son played in Germany

1985 NCAA champion coach of VIllanova Rollie Massimino and Stanley Whittaker

            Stanley Whittaker was born on October 21ist, 1994 in Philadelphia and attended Nueva Esperanza Academy. Like so many guys balling in Europe now, the talent level of guards in general is so high that there just aren´t enough spots in higher college levels that guys have to pay their first dues in JUCO. But for young guys out there today, there is always hope as there have been countless guys who have come from JUCO and climbed the ladder slowly and others quicker like Jordan Brangers who played in the German BBL 2 years ago and recently signed with Greek top division club Larisa. Whittaker who meditates 1 hour a day and has Greece at the top of his wish list to visit is going a similar path as Brangers, but he had to start somewhere and that was Frank Phillips College (JUCO) where he balled from 2013-2015 amassing a total of 56 JUCO games. He made an impressive early basketball development averaging 6.5ppg, 3.1rpg, 3.4apg, FGP: 38.5%, 3PT: 17.9%, FT: 54.1% as a freshman and as a sophomore averaged 13.0ppg, 4.8rpg, 4.6apg, FGP: 44.4%, 3PT: 33.9%, FT: 71.8%. One can see how much his offensive game improved as his scoring, three point shooting and free throw shooting profited from the experience. So many guys I have talked to always report that JUCO was a very tough experience, but in the end very worthwhile and it wasn´t any different for the American. “, JUCO was a grind, it was really tough. You assembled a bunch of guys with the exact same mission which is trying to go to the next level, so there isn’t really a great deal of comfort. You know your time there is short so it’s like, get yours while your here kind of attitude and approach. Well at least that’s the impression I thought of it. But in all, JUCO help shape me into the player I am today. It made me grind harder, it made me go that extra mile, so for that I am forever grateful and appreciative for it. JUCO helped my game because it allowed me to play with many players that were “the guy” coming from their respective high school and maybe other programs. So it allowed me to understand egos and play with a bunch of individual talent on one team”, remembered Stanley Whittaker.

            His hard work, diligence and patience paid off as he was able to move up a level to Keiser. It wasn´t the NCAA, but the NAIA is maybe only the 4th best college level, but also one that has produced enough great players that have made the jump to the professional ranks. He played at Keiser(NAIA) from 2015-2017 playing a total of 65 NAIA games and needed no adjustment period as he was able to find his role and had a great 2 year career. At Keiser he helped lead the Seahawks to the 2016 NAIA Elite 8 and 2017 TSC tournament semi-finals. “Finishing in the Elite 8 at Keiser was a pretty great memory and I still remember that season up until this day. It was special, we had a special team and that was a special year. Of course I wish we could’ve went further and maybe won the championship because we surely had a nice opportunity, but yes that was a great time and a memorable moment in my college career”, stressed Stanley Whittaker. On the personal side, he had two very strong seasons as he played 34 games as a junior averaging 15.4ppg, 8.2rpg, 6.3apg, 2.3spg, FGP: 41.2%, 3PT: 34.3%, FT: 67.8% and as a senior played 31 games averaging 13.8ppg, 5.6rpg, 6.9apg, 1.7spg, FGP: 46.2%, 3PT: 21.7%, FT: 70. 1%. In his second to last NAIA game, he registered a rare triple double scoring 20 points, grabbing 11 rebounds and dishing out 13 assists in the 78-65 victory over J & Wales. This is a contest that he still looks back fondly at today and could imagine getting one at the pro ranks. “That game was special because it was a playoff game, win or go home. And also it was in our gym. So that in itself made the game special, I wasn’t sure I had a triple double until my coach told me after the win. That made it a little bit better, but I was more happy with the playoff win and we were able to advance to the next round. I would like to get a triple double as a professional. Although I don’t tell myself “go get a triple double,” but if that will help our team win and it’s a possibility I would be happy with that result”,said Stanley Whittaker. The American who lists his parents as the most influential people in his life learned to develop an important attribute at Keiser which was consistency. The Florida native was able to score in double figures in 56 of 65 games and was very content how his game continued to develop in his 2 years there. “I think that my game in general just matured more at my time at Keiser. I think I was very patient in poised in understanding our offense and understanding my attack points. Picking and choosing my spots on the floor, knowing the defensive of game plan from studying film helped my game grow a lot”, expressed Stanley Whittaker.

            Instead of turning pro right after his last season at Keiser(NAIA), he held his word to coach Massimino and finished his degree. A big problem for any player especially for the lesser known ones playing at lower college levels is that the longer time you don´t have a professional club, the harder it will be to find a team. On top of that, he was just out of college and had never gone through the difficult process of finding a team. He was finished at Keiser in the spring of 2017 and didn´t begin his professional career until the 2019-2020 season in January. Those 2 plus years is a very long period of being inactive and could have cost many guys a professional career, but Whittaker never gave up after getting his degree, but just kept grinding and grinding and accepting the basketball process. “My last years before turning professional I was spending a lot of time with family, but the goal to become a professional remained the focal point. I spent countless hours working on my craft daily. I prioritized staying in the best shape possible just because you don’t ever know when that opportunity will come. I spent time training younger kids and so I worked around the game just to keep the joy and aspiration. And there was never a time where I wanted to give up, I always told myself that God wouldn’t bring me this far just to give it up”, warned Stanley Whittaker. Before heading overseas in 2020, the American who will never forget his one on one battles with Keiser teammate Brice Jenkins had the once in the lifetime opportunity and had a work out with NBA team Orlando Magic in the summer of 2018. There he was able to see what DJ Augustine had as a player while battling him on the floor. “DJ Augustin is just an extremely crafty, smart well experienced player. He seen all the different defensive coverages so he knows what’s his next move almost immediately, so I think the difference between our games is his experience at playing the highest level in the world”, remembered Stanley Whittaker. He began his rookie season with Jonava Jonavos (Lithuania-NKL) playing 6 games averaging  9.3ppg, 3.7rpg, 2.7apg, 1.7spg, 2FGP: 36.4%, 3FGP: 22.2%, FT: 66.7%. He scored in double figures in 3 games including 20 points against Telsiai and was close to a double double with 11 points and 9 dimes in the exciting 93-91 win over Ereliai Mazeikiai. He showed that he needed no real adjustment period coming overseas. “I believe my wake cup call as a rookie was really just adjusting into being a professional in general. I don’t think the distance bothered me any I embraced the opportunity and was grateful. But just transitioning into being a professional was the adjustment and wake up call for me”, commented Stanley Whittaker. Being the lone American on a team overseas can be tough, but when you walk into a new situation and see another American, it often changes a tough situation into a good situation. He was fortunate to have teammate Kahlid Thomas who had an exceptional career at Rider(NCAA) and took him under his wing. “Khalil is my boy. Our relationship was great when we shared time together in Jonava. He helped me a lot for my short time there on and off the court. We are able to relate to one another as well and we are still good friends and are in contact regularly to this day”, remembered Stanley Whittaker.

            The American who lists his NBA Mount Rushmore with the following legends with Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, Lebron James and Allen Iverson finished last season with UBSC Raiffeisen Graz (Austria-BSL) suffering a tough 95-93 loss to Arkadia but showed his versatility steering 11 points, 8 boards, 4 dimes and 4 steals in the losing cause. As we fast forward to November 2020, one thing hasn´t changed and that is that COVID-19 is still alive. It has been a very difficult time for everyone and every player has had their own story how they have survived the COVID-19 crisis. “My thoughts and prayers go out to everyone who has been affected from this devastating virus. But yes, the virus made things much more difficult for me. I was here in Austria from the end of January to March. The virus cancelled our season so was sent home, back to America. In America, things were tough. Maybe for the first month I wasn’t able to have access to a gym so I had to use other resources to workout and stay in shape. Shortly after that initial month, I was able to get gym access and get right back into my sanctuary”, remembered Stanley Whittaker. Some guys had it easier finding the correct resources too stay in shape and continue to work on their craft, while others had a more tough time. As back breaking and punishing the last 7-8 months have been, the whole COVID-19 crisis has in a way also helped players see another side of life and take positives out of a burdensome time. “I honestly learned a lot about myself during these times. Our world being in a pandemic is something I’ve never seen or been through before. So just with that, it was something I had to adjust to. Life isn’t normal anymore, but I learned that I was much more patient than I thought. Throughout this entire pandemic, it made me much stronger, it made me understand a lot more. Because for a while now it’s just been basketball, basketball & basketball for me, so being able to take a step back, cherish more time with my family and loved ones, it gave me a greater appreciation for life and love”, stressed Stanley Whittaker.

            The American who probably would be a sports agent today is loving his life in Austria and one would think it might have been a tough adjustment coming from the warm Florida to the cooler Austria, but in between, he had some practice with a cooler type of climate “Florida to Austria is an adjustment solely based off the climate. However, after I graduated from college in Florida, I spent most of my back home in Philadelphia where the winters are really cold and the summers are really hot. So being back in Philadelphia prepared me for the cooler temperatures here in Austria. I am still learning about Austria and it’s culture, but thus far it’s been pretty good. Here in Graz, it’s really vibrant. The people are nice, the food is good and it’s always pretty active. So that in itself I appreciate”, said Stanley Whittaker. Only a few years ago, he was very far away from a professional career, but now is a top player in the first division Austria and knows that you can´t take anything for granted and enjoys every second of being a part of UBSC Raiffeisen Graz. “It’s truly a blessing to be able to further my career and continue to have the opportunity to chase this dream of mine of being a professional basketball player. I’m grateful to be able to be in this position here playing for UBSC Graz, they gave me an opportunity at the beginning of the year, and extended their hand and wanted me back so I’m blessed and humbled for that. As you stated, this is my first full year as a professional, so I hope we are able to gather some more wins and turn this organization around and be a part of some history for this team”, warned Stanley Whittaker. In the Austrian BSL league, there are 10 teams and at the moment UBSC Graz are in sixth place with a 3-4 record. On paper the team coached by Slovenian Ervin Dragsic is a lot better than it´s record and it´s only a matter of time before this team will take off. The team lost 3 of their 4 games by a total number of only 7 points “I think our team has a bunch of talent. We were assembled at the beginning of the year before Covid hit and that’s when we noticed that we can be a special group. And with the addition of a couple pieces to our team made us better. We are a confident group that prides ourselves on being selfless and playing together. We have some versatility with our group. And as far as our goals, we’re taking it day by day, game by game just looking to get better each day that’s how we honestly go about work here, but making the playoffs are in our eyesight and think we have a nice chance at doing so”, warned Stanley Whittaker. The team has proved early on that it isn´t shy of putting points on the board averaging 88 per game, but so far they haven´t been a solid unit on the defensive end where they are allowing 86 points at the moment. “We have to be much better defensively. We can score the ball pretty well, as I stated we have a bunch of talent, but if we don’t defend we won’t win. Defensively, I think we can come out with better energy and intensity each game. It starts with our energy, but also attention to detail, we tend to have lapses defensively as well and the teams here makes us pay each time. So energy and more attention to detail we have to hang our hats on especially more so on the defensive end”, stressed Stanley Whittaker.

            The club has solid support at the American spots with 203 cm forward Nick McGlynn who played at Drake(NCAA) and had double double stats last season with T71 Dudelange (Luxembourg-Total League), 190cm guard Jacob Ledoux who played at the University of Texas Permian Basin (NCAA2) and is in his second season with UBSC Raiffeisen Graz, 203cm forward Sam Daniel who played at Florida Institute of Technology (NCAA2) and brought experience to Austria form Brazil and England and 198cm forward Kendall Pollard who reached the NCAA Elite 8 with Dayton and despite 3 seasons of scoring in double figures in the NCAA couldn´t get a better job than one in the G-League and Iceland. The American who loves chicken Alfredo feels very at home with his many American teammates and sees himself as the leader despite not having played with as many professional teams as they have. “Most of my other Americans teammates have more pro experience than myself. But I feel like I have become a leader here for our team. That goes to show the trust and respect that my coaching staff and teammates have for me. Giving me the opportunity to lead is always a role I will embrace, but I am truly humbled and appreciative for it as well”, said Stanley Whittaker. They haven´t been teammates long, but Whittaker and Pollard have shared a special relationship so far. Both guys have gone a similar path in that it has been quite a few years since school and both haven´t garnered so much professional experience yet. Especially Pollard who only has Iceland and the G-League to show in the last 4 seasons. “Kendall is a great guy and a great player. He is one of the smartest basketball minds I’ve played with over the years. I definitely spoke with him about his journey after he finished school at Dayton. It’s a bonus to have a teammate or teammates you can relate to or can relate to you, that makes the chemistry better in my opinion”, added Stanley Whittaker.

            Whittaker is a 183 cm point guard that doesn´t like to compare his game to any of the NBA stars, but rather studies film for hours and hours in order to soak up as much detail as possible which he can add to his game to help refine it. “I watch all the point guards in the NBA as well as Europe, so I study them to learn, therefore I try to take a little from them each and add it to my game in some way. I always watched a ton of Chris Paul, I love Kyrie Irving skill set and his ability make difficult shots. Damian Lillard confidence is unmatched, and Westbrook intensity is relentless. I love watching Mike James, Shane Larkin, Mike Green and Facundo Campazzo. I am not able to compare my game to any of those guys, but I do study and like watching all of them compete. I have two point guards that just got drafted who I like a lot and they are Malachi Flynn and Payton Pritchard”, said Stanley Whittaker. He is a guy that can fill the stat sheet with ease as he proved back in the NAIA with a triple double and just that point guard that has that keen basketball IQ that knows at the split of a second when to create and when to go alone. But not only offensively is he a delight to watch, but also on the defensive end where his non stop focus to detail and man allows him to be a menace and disrupt opponents offenses at anytime. “I think some of my strongest assets are my ability to create and play make, not only for myself but for my teammates as well. I pride myself on the defensive end so much, so I play defense with an edge. I try to limit my opponent from being comfortable let alone scoring. With me I think defense is all effort and will. But also studying film helps me a ton and puts me in position to be able to get some of them steals, but also not just steals for me, it allows my teammates to get some of them as well. I limited my gambling because it hurts more times than it helps especially when I don’t succeed when I do gamble. So I just anticipate and manipulate the defense more so now”, expressed Stanley Whittaker.

            At the moment the American who last watched his all-time favorite movie Life with Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence is taking the Austrian BSL league by storm being second in scoring and assists and first in steals currently averaging 21,0ppg, 5,4rpg, 7,6rpg and 3,4spg in 38 minutes. One may think that he is a player that is always looking at his stats, but that isn´t the case. He is just trying to help his team come out on top after 40 minutes. His filled stats rather imply that he is trying to do everything possible to get his team in the best position to be successful. “I don’t base my game or style of play on stats. I try to go out there and play the game the right way and try to get our team in the best possible chance at winning games. I think there are many ways I can be better and improve overall, but doing it in a team setting where it is helping our team and not hurting our team. I don’t have to stat chase at all. The way I play the game is team sensitive and I play within the structure of the team”, added Stanley Whittaker. He knows that he has to continue to get better in all area´s of his game to be able to continue to climb the basketball ladder. One big focus at the moment is his outside shot. At the moment he is shooting at a 31% clip, but isn´t satisfied and knows it will improve. “I definitely see myself as becoming a better 3 point shooter. I don’t believe the percentage shows how well of a 3 point shooter I am or can be. Actually watching the games and seeing the selection of 3 point shots I get plays a part. However, some shots didn’t fall in early on in the season but I definitely can and will improve from behind the arch. I work daily on my long ball and I am a confident shooter as well so I will be better”, warned Stanley Whittaker. He also knows that becoming that ultimate leader is another area that he wants to improve on so he can have that better touch with helping his team be more successful “Some steps I am taking to be a better leader is being a better listener. I think that is the first step with me, if I’m able to listen more and be more understanding that would help me lead better. Understanding personnel helps me be a better leader, leading isn’t a part time role it’s something you have to do consistently. And finally accountability, making sure I am held accountable as well as holding my teammates and everyone that’s a part of our team success accountable, I think that’s major as well”, warned Stanley Whittaker.

            Whittaker´s main focus now is getting UBSC Raiffeisen Graz (Austria-BSL) out of it´s rut and also to help them finally win some nail bitters. What happens down the road is unknown, but if the season ended tomorrow, he would surely have offers from two thirds of German Pro A teams on the table as well as some offers from easyCredit BBL teams. He isn´t far from Germany and has the league in the back of his mind. “The German BBL is a pretty good league, I hear a lot about it here since I’m in Austria and Germany isn’t too far. However, it would be a great blessing if that opportunity was to present itself in the future”, said Stanley Whittaker. The great thing about Stanley Whittaker is that he is no near from being satisfied with his current career status This guy still has a very long and bright future in front of him and won´t stop grinding to continue to become the best player that he can be. He has something special that not every player has. He has that heavy chip on his shoulder and that will remain until the day he retires. “I always played with a chip on my shoulder. I was a “late bloomer.” I always been overlooked, and I always got passed up on. But understanding my process and how much time I devoted to getting better and working hard I had faith that when the opportunity presented itself for me I would have to take full advantage of it. My mom always told me to remain humble. So that chip I have on my shoulder will always remain, regardless if the circumstances are good or bad”, warned Stanley Whittaker. I only remember Rolle Massimino from TV and when he was a head coach at Villanova while Whittaker had the distinct pleasure of knowing and learning from him for 2 years at Keiser. It has been more than 3 years since the death of Rolle Massimino, but I´m sure that the 1985 NCAA champion has taken a very special note about his ex player Whittaker and is having a ball watching his progress from above. “I honestly think this is my calling from him as he is looking down on me. I believe he would tell me that he is proud of me and that he loves me. I think he would tell me that he is proud of the decision I made to go back to school and get my degree. Because he would always tell us “the ball will stop dribbling,” so therefore, having that degree under my belt can help me when I am finished up with basketball. I also think he would congratulate me on remaining true to myself as well as my goals and never giving up. Even when times were extremely dull and tough. He will credit my perseverance and dedication and tell me “Stanley I am proud of you babe”, stressed Stanley Whittaker. Massimino is a champion and even if Whittaker is still looking to becoming that first time professional champion, he is also a champion like his friend Massimino, because he earned a degree from Keiser and that is something nobody can take away from him.

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