The summer of 2010 was special for Notre Dame Catholic Secondary School honour roll Grade 11 student and standout basketball player, Dakota Whyte.
The 16-year-old Ajax resident represented the Canadian junior team in an exhibition tournament in Spain before heading to France for the inaugural International Basketball Federation (FIBA) Under-17 championship.
Filling in for an injured player who recuperated before the FIBA series ended, Whyte returned home early to play for Ontario which won the silver medal in the national junior series at Humber College. Two days after the tournament ended, she was back on a plane travelling 30 hours to Singapore via Montreal, Houston and the Soviet Union for the first ever Youth Olympics.
Most young people look forward to their summer holidays to spend time with family and friends. Whyte however didn’t mind giving up hers to represent Canada, see new places and experience different cultures.
“It was just so fascinating and something I don’t think I have really comprehended,” she said. “So many good things were happening so quickly that I must admit I was a bit giddy. It was quite the summer and one that I will never forget.”
Whyte and her Canadian teammates finished fourth in the Youth Olympics three-on-three tournament. They beat Vanuatu, the Ivory Coast, the Republic of Korea and the Soviet Union in the first round and crushed Germany 33-15 in the quarter-finals before losing to eventual champions China 28-21 in the semi-finals.
The 5′ 8″ point guard started in all the games, leading Canada in scoring with eight points in a 25-12 rout of Ivory Coast. She also scored the only three-pointer in the Germany encounter.
The games were split into two periods with the first team to reach 33 points or hold the lead after the end of regulation being declared the winner.
“This tournament was very demanding both physically and mentally,” said Whyte whose favourite professional players are Phoenix Suns guard/forward Diane Taurasi and Los Angeles Lakers 12-time All-Star Kobe Bryant. “The shot clock was just 10 seconds so you did not have much time to make decisions on the court. We however adjusted well and were able to go all the way to the semi-finals. We had a lot of fun and I am happy we did our country proud even though we were aiming for the gold.”
Back home, Whyte was also the tournament All-Star at the Notre Dame/New Advertiser Classic and the Centennial Lady Colts event and the Scarborough Basketball Association (SBA) shootout’s Most Valuable Player.
The year, however, ended on a bitter note when her high school team failed to make it to the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations (OFSAA) championship, falling 60-54 to Pickering High School last November in the regional finals. She fouled out with 6:54 left in the contest with her team trailing 47-39.
It was Notre Dame’s only loss in 36 games last season.
“This was one of the few meltdowns she had last year,” said Whyte’s mother, Leisa Washington. “Dakota takes losing hard and she was very disappointed after that loss. It was one of her lowest moments.”
Whyte’s outstanding play has impressed many American basketball coaches who have been lining up for her service since she was in Grade 8. She has received over 50 offers and the family has an idea of where she’s going to play after she graduates from high school.
“Playing college ball in the U.S is definitely a goal and I want to be part of a program where I am accepted and I can get the opportunity to showcase my skills and talent,” said Whyte who aspires to own a business. “I also want to be in an environment where I can get a good education because that means a lot to me and my family.”
Washington, a track and field athlete at Runnymede Collegiate Institute, and her husband understand the value of a solid education and what it means to provide the best opportunity for young people to succeed. As a result, she has established Play it Forward Canada which is a foundation dedicated to helping elite level athletes with financial aid.
“I could not continue with track because my mother did not have the money or the will to travel,” said Washington, a client relations manager with Wild Water Kingdom. (Before her job at Wild Water Kingdom, she spent nearly seven years at the Starlight Starbright Children’s Foundation. As the Great Escapes coordinator, she managed programs and events for terminally ill children and their families and she also worked in conjunction with the Toronto Raptors to help provide live-game experiences for children.)
“We have been fortunate to have had great sponsors for Dakota and I want to ensure that kids who reach a high level in their sport have a chance to continue without any barriers like money,” said Washington.