Like Father, Like Son – William McDowell-White
set to make a mark in his chosen sport,
like his father before him.
There is excitement brewing in basketball circles, with coaches, scouts and fans wondering just how far William McDowell-White can go. It seems universally agreed that the sky’s the limit for this promising Class of 2016 point guard who hails from Queensland.
McDowell-White is the son of AFL football star, Darryl White, who is a triple Premiership winner with the Brisbane Lions, an inductee of the AFLNT Hall of Fame and a member of the AFL Indigenous Team of the Century, “there’s a lot of Aboriginal players who played over the last 100 years so getting picked in the final 24 positions out of that mob was a real honour,” Darryl says with pride.
William McDowell-White is White’s second son (after Darryl Junior). McDowell-White has played basketball since he was five years old. “Dad was the first person to recognise I had a talent for basketball. He was the first one to put a basketball in my hands,” says McDowell-White, adding, “I tried playing AFL too, but I kept growing and Dad pushed me more towards basketball, and I just loved basketball better.”
Usually sports stars encourage their children to pursue their own sport. This case is unique because in addition to loving football, White is also a huge basketball fan. “I really loved Magic Johnson, basketball is all I wanted to do, but I ended up getting drafted into the AFL so that was that. Now I’m getting the chance to share my love of basketball with my kids.”
Most of White’s seven children have played both AFL and basketball, including his two daughters, but most seem to agree with dad, that basketball is the sport with a bigger future. “You can’t play AFL outside Australia, but basketball is an international game, you can play all over the world and for William, the world is his oyster.”
White is referring to McDowell-White’s potential as a basketball player, which became apparent pretty early, as McDowell-White explains, “there was one time when we went up to Darwin for a family holiday and I played Dad one-on-one. I was about 10 years old, and I beat him. So I thought ‘if I can beat him at 10 I must be pretty good.’ I was pretty hot that day. I don’t think I really missed a shot.” That moment was a turning point for McDowell-White, setting him on the path to success.
McDowell-White is quick to point out that his success on the court is a family affair. “The two people who have had the most influence on me have been Mum and Dad. They are the ones who are constantly pushing me because they know what I could achieve.” McDowell-White elaborates, “My biggest role model is Dad for sure because he has been at the top of his profession. But the person I look up to the most is Mum. She has had to deal with a lot, with my Dad being away for work a lot and she had to take care of everything.”
Mums are often the unsung behind-the-scenes heroes who don’t seem to get as much credit as they should. Bianca McDowell is no exception. McDowell is not only a huge supporter of McDowell-White but she seems to be the glue that sticks the whole family together. “Mum is probably the biggest part of all this. She pretty much does everything for me. She takes care of me and makes sure everything is alright. She is pretty much the reason why I am this good right now. Mum is the core of everything.”
Coming from a tight-knit family environment has certainly given McDowell-White every chance to thrive. Making the family an inner sanctum, where everyone can relax and be themselves is really important to Darryl White, who knows from his own experience playing football, how important having that trusted support system really is. “You need mentors,” confirms White, “I had a few. Michael McLean was a father figure to a lot of us Indigenous boys. He gave us the fatherly advice as well as the footy advice that we needed to succeed. Martin Leslie and Roger Merrett both helped me too. I wouldn’t have made it as far as I did without their advice. When you come from a place where you are surrounded by family 24×7, to somewhere that you don’t have any family, you really need those shoulders to lean on.”
“Gathering those right people around you at the start is so important,” continues White, “you only play professionally for a short time. I played for 14 years and that time went really quickly. You’re going to miss home, you’re going to miss friends and family. You only have a short career, work hard and make the most of it. The harder you work early, they better it will be down the track. If you give 120% and make mistakes you wont do that bad.”
White moved his family to northern Queensland to fulfil a work contract, but Alice Springs is still home. “My wife is from Darwin so we are Territory people, but unfortunately we don’t get back there as often as we’d like.”
White is confident that when McDowell-White leaves home to pursue a career in basketball, that he will create his own inner circle of trusted friends and advisors to help him through. At the moment, those roles are largely filled by family and a few close family friends like Randy Livingston and Coach Sid Mines. “I’m lucky. I have four brothers and two sisters. Whenever we get the chance we are out the back shooting hoops. Sometimes we get the younger ones to play in our club teams, which is fun. My older brother Darryl has been a big inspiration for me too. He keeps working on his game, day in and day out. Even though there is a lot of attention on me, he is still working harder than ever.”
At home, McDowell-White watches basketball whenever it’s on TV “I watch it a lot and whenever I see a cool move, like something Jamal Crawford would do, I go straight to the back yard and practice it for hours.” An eye to the future is what motivates McDowell-White to get up day after day and train so hard. “The opportunities that will come down the track if I work hard is what motivates me, I could really be something in the future.”
“In addition to Jamal Crawford, the players I look up to are LeBron James and Kobe Bryant. I also like John Wall and D. Wade. I have sort of patterned my game off Dwyane Wade because he plays a similar position and we kind of play the same way, we are both ‘get to the rim’ type guys,” explains McDowell-White.
It is often said that you are only as good as your competitors, and the increasing calibre of McDowell-White’s competitors is a testament to his own improvement in the game. “The toughest player I played against so far is Stanley Johnson, who many people are predicting will go top 10 in the 2015 Draft. I was on a school trip when we played his team at Mater Dei. He was fierce.”
Adidas Nations Global tournament in 2014 was another opportunity to match up against world class opponents. “Last year at Nations was probably the best experience I’ve ever had in basketball. Easily one of the best experiences. Playing against some of the best high school players in the world was pretty big for me. I could see where I was at. I want to go back to adidas Nations because playing with and against the best really elevates my game.”
“My biggest weakness at Nations was shooting, especially from the 3 point range, so if I went again, I’d like to improve on that.” Shooting remains McDowell-White’s primary focus in terms of skills development. “I work on my shooting every day.”
“I gained a lot of confidence from adidas Nations. I played pretty well. Before that I didn’t have so much confidence. Now when I go out, I feel like no one else on the court can stop me.” McDowell-White continues, “If I could go back to adidas Nations, my goal would be to play on ESPN and to be one of the top players there, without a doubt.”
Basketball has already taken Will on the road quite a bit, so what has been his favourite travel destination so far? McDowell-White is quick to answer, “I really like the United States, especially LA.” Could he see himself playing for the Lakers or the Clippers one day? “Hopefully.” He says with a smile.
That ambition might not be too far from being realised if the 6’4” point guard continues his mission to be the best he can be. “My immediate goals are to go to College in the US, to a top Div I school, beyond that, my ultimate goal is to reach the NBA.” If he does eventually play for the NBA, he will follow Nathan Jawai and Patty Mills as the third Indigenous Australian athlete to walk that path.
“When I step onto the court, I represent my family and my culture.” McDowell-White says, although he is quick to downplay suggestions that he is a role model for other Indigenous athletes. “I feel like I am a bit young to be a role model. I am not really experienced enough, but in the future I think I will be a role model.” One thing is certain, McDowell-White is already a great example of where hard work and dedication can take you.
This relentless work ethic, instilled by his parents, will no doubt carry McDowell-White far. How far does his father hope McDowell-White will go? “I hope at the end of the day he rubs his hands together and gets them really dirty and works really hard. We’ve had a few superstars go to America over the last few years and do great things in high school and college and the NBA. I’ll be more than happy if he ends up playing basketball anywhere in the world and has a smile on his face, that will make me happy.”
What advice does McDowell-White give young players coming up in the game? “Don’t hold back. Just play your game and show what you’ve got. No regrets.”