Freshman Steven Whitley learns to deal positively with his lesser role at Robert Morris
January 28, 2016 12:00 AM
Robert Morris freshman Steven Whitley, right, has had to adjust to not being a star at the college level.
By Megan Ryan / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Steven Whitley knows how to overcome adversity.
Whether major injuries in high school or limited minutes in college, the freshman guard has worked to beat them all.
Whitley broke his hip in high school. He was going for a dunk when an all-state linebacker undercut him. The months out of commission and resultant loss of athleticism chased away whatever Division I and II interest the Norfolk, Va., native had generated after a successful AAU season. He spent 2014-15 at Fork Union Military Academy trying to raise his stock.
Robert Morris coach Andy Toole bought in to the 6-foot-4, 210-pounder and has spent much of this season trying to make Whitley buy in to his role as a bench player for the Colonials (6-15, 4-4 Northeast Conference), who visit Mount St. Mary’s (9-12, 6-2) at 7 p.m. today.
“[Toole] said I had to work to get there, and I never wanted anything that was given to me,” Whitley said. “That’s what I wanted. I wanted a challenge.”
Whitley has played in every game but one this season. With senior guard Rodney Pryor concussed and sophomore forward Elijah Minnie sitting out the first half for violating team rules, Whitley earned his first start Jan. 21 at Central Connecticut. He averages close to 13 minutes per game and had five points and five rebounds against Central Connecticut.
The freshman, who also played for Booker T. Washington High School, was a self-proclaimed “stat-sheet stuffer” in his high school career and said he grappled with accepting his secondary role for the Colonials.
“There’s still days that he struggles with it,” Toole said. “There’s still days where he wants to be able to run wild, and that’s not what’s best for the team.”
Whitley said he relies on Pryor and junior guard Kavon Stewart for advice. Pryor said he remembered Whitley texting him when the freshman first committed to Robert Morris, saying he looked forward to learning as much as he could from the senior.
“A lot of guys are coming from being the best player on the best team in their division or state, and they’re accustomed to having that role, being the man, being the guy to go to,” Pryor said. “He accepts his wrongs and is willing to work at them, and that’s rare to see from a young guy. And that’s why I really respect him.”
Toole said he appreciates Whitley’s ability to communicate with the coaches and his teammates.
“He’s not afraid to speak his mind, which I think is great. He has opinions on things,” Toole said. “He’s an intelligent kid. We’ve had some really good conversations, him and I, just about his role and the team.”
In the locker room and on road trips, Whitley is a fun and positive personality, Pryor said. The team nicknamed him “Diesel” for his stocky frame.
“He’s funny, always dancing, making jokes,” Pryor said. “We always do a lot of old-school analogies of old-school rappers or old-school movies, and he’s on point with all of them.”
While he might not have the starting role he desires, Whitley said he has embraced whatever contribution he can make.
“I try to put myself aside and focus more on the team,” he said. “At the end of the day, we’re a team. And the team winning is what everybody wants.”
Megan Ryan: email@example.com, 412-263-1722 and Twitter @theothermegryan.
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