Former Barry University men’s basketball player Willie Whitfield was selected 13th overall by the London Lightning in the National Basketball League of Canada.
Whitfield was the third player chosen in the second round by the two-time defending NBL Canada champions in Monday night's draft in Markham, Ontario.
"When you're just sitting there waiting, you're nervous," Whitfield said of his draft experience. "When you hear your name called over the microphone and the speaker system, it's like a sigh of relief. It's a special feeling to know they felt you were good enough.
"This is real. There's a lot of great talent in the league with a lot of Division I players and guys who've spent time in the NBDL and playing professionally overseas. So the competition is there. I'm just excited to be able to play against some of the best. I pride myself on playing hard and giving 110 percent. I'm up for the challenge of playing against the top competition."
A 6-foot-6, 240-pound forward from Miami (Miami Springs HS), Whitfield spent the past two years in Germany playing professionally for ASC Mainz. Last season, he led the Third Division German team in scoring (17.9) and rebounds (9.2) per game, while averaging 1.1 blocks and 1.0 steals and shooting 63 percent from the field on a team that tied for first place in the league.
In 2011-12, Whitfield averaged 20.9 points, 11.6 rebounds and 1.7 blocks, and shot 68.6 percent from the floor for ASC Mainz.
“I’m very proud of Willie. He’s worked very hard since he got here as a freshman until now to achieve his goals,” said former Barry men’s basketball coach Cesar Odio, who recruited Whitfield. “He always wanted to get better, and his goal when he got here was to play professional basketball. To hear your named called, and get picked by the London Lightning, the two-time defending champions of the Canadian League, is an honor.
“This is a tremendous shot in the arm for Barry University. Willie exemplifies everything we look for in a student-athlete at Barry. He worked hard, became a great player, did well in school and finished his degree.”
As a senior at Barry in 2010-11, Whitfield averaged 10.6 rebounds per game, which ranked seventh in NCAA Division II. He shot 63.3 percent from the field, which ranked 10th in the country, and scored 15.3 points per game. Whitfield had 52 blocks that year for an average of 1.9 per game.
"Being at Barry, I had some hard times, but I had a great support system. That just helped me push through difficult challenges," Whitfield said. "I believe in myself, and I have a whole bunch of people that believe in me. That helps me stay motivated and give my all."
A four-year player with the Buccaneers from 2007-11, Whitfield ranks first in school history in rebounds (808), first in blocked shots (167), fourth in points scored (1,186), fourth in rebounding average (7.7), first in offensive rebounds (338), third in defensive rebounds (470), third in field goal percentage (.575) and second in free throws made (254). He appeared in 105 games, which ranks ninth, and started in 86, which is sixth all-time. He ranks second in minutes played (3,057).
“He doesn’t forget where he’s from,” Odio said. “He’s very humble. He’s a great ambassador for Barry University, the last two years in Germany and now in Canada.”
Whitfield will report to training camp Oct. 7 in London, Ontario. The regular season runs from Nov. 1-Feb. 28, followed by the postseason.
Whitfield said the chance to play for Lightning coach Micheal Ray Richardson, who spent nine years in the NBA, is a great opportunity for him. He also said being closer to South Florida is something he's looking forward to.
"Things look very familiar over there," he said. "That's exciting."
Canada will be the third country Whitfield will have taken up residence in.
"I'm just going to work hard and be consistent at training camp," Whitfield said. "Since they drafted me that high, I believe they have confidence in me to contribute to the team. So it's just up to me to help them confirm that they made the right decision in picking me. It's reassuring. It lets me know I haven't reached my potential yet.
"I want to thank the London organization for the opportunity to join the Lightning family, and I'm just looking forward to training camp."
2013 NBL Canada Draft Selections
1. Ottawa SkyHawks - Alex Johnson (CAN)
2. Brampton A's - Brent Jennings
3. Halifax Rainmen - Raven Barber
4. Mississauga Power - Bol Kong (CAN)
5. Halifax Rainmen - Gerald Devaughan
6. Moncton Miracles - Jermel Kennedy (CAN)
7. Saint John Mill Rats - Michael Luby (CAN)
8. Windsor Express - Danarryl Rice
9. The Island Storm - Shawn Vanzant
10. London Lightning - Raheem Singleton
11. Ottawa SkyHawks - Manock Lual (CAN)
12. Brampton A's - Niko Brooks
13. London Lightning - Willie Whitfield
14. Mississauga Power - Dwight McCombs
15. Halifax Rainmen - James Marcellus
16. Moncton Miracles - Aleks Mitrovic (CAN)
17. Saint John Mill Rats - David Louis
18. Mississauga Power - Marcus James
19. The Island Storm - Ryan Martin
20. London Lightning - Colin Nickerson
21. Ottawa SkyHawks - Jerome Brown (CAN)
22. Brampton A's - Jayson Obazuaye
23. Mississauga Power - Eric Petty Jr.
24. Halifax Rainmen - Jason Dawson
25. Moncton Miracles - Anto Raic (CAN)
26. Saint John Mill Rats - Alex Jackson
27. Halifax Rainmen - Keoni Watson
28. The Island Storm - Justin Leemow
29. Mississauga Power - Branko Veljovic (CAN)
Halifax Rainmen trade 15th & 24th (James Marcellus, Jason Dawson) to the Windsor Express for 1st Round pick in the 2014 NBL Canada Draft.