Former coach, player remembers Whitney

Published 12:03 am Friday, May 15, 2015

NATCHEZ — If you ask former Alcorn State assistant coach Sam West to talk about the impact of the late Davey Whitney, West will respond with, “there’s not enough time.”

From gut-busting one-liners to tears created by a championship to his strict, disciplinary coaching style, Whitney demanded respect from his peers and players in his coaching career. Whitney spent nearly three decades at Alcorn State with stints extending from 1967 to 1989 and from 1996 to 2003. Whitney amassed a 566-356 career record as a coach, and has 12 Southwestern Atlantic Conference championships to add to his legend.

Former North Natchez player and coach West fondly remembers Whitney as a father figure to many and a coaching icon.

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“They didn’t call him the ‘Wiz’ for nothing,” said West, who coached with Whitney at Alcorn State from 1998 until 2005. “He was a master at his craft. He was a disciplinarian, and he followed through on everything he ever implemented.”

While Whitney was tremendously successful, he wasn’t known for his winning ways alone. To former players like Reuben Stiff, Whitney had an aura about him that demanded respect.

“For a man with such small stature, he would walk in the room like he was 6-foot-8,” Stiff said.

Whitney got Stiff’s attention immediately. When Whitney arrived at Alcorn State for his second stint, Stiff was coming off of a freshman season where he scored 11.9 points per game.

“His first speech he gave us, he said, ‘You are all my hogs,’” Stiff recalled. “He said, ‘I can’t give all my ears of corn to one hog. I can’t have one healthy hog, and the rest be unhealthy.’ He was always emphasizing team, and we never had one guy scoring 20 or 30 points a game.”

And though Whitney joked around, his strict coaching style always had his players focused, Stiff said. After the team won a championship in 1999, Stiff said Whitney wept.

“That was the only time we saw him being sensitive,” Stiff said. “He told us that’s why he was so hard on us.”

Whitney was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010. His athletic achievements have been celebrated, but for West, probably more important than that, Whitney never missed an opportunity to celebrate life.

“The biggest thing I ever learned from him was longevity, to continue being young at heart” West said. “It’s not the number of years in your life, but it’s the life in your years.”