St. Mary's Whitfield ready for big season
Do you remember the name Travis Whitfield? Odds are you might not.
The 6-4 shooting guard was used sparingly last season by St. Mary's, averaging no more than five minutes a game and even fewer points. So you may not remember him, but when you see him this season, you certainly won't forget him.
"Had he been as good as he is right now," St. Mary's coach Bill Harkins said, "he may have been starting for me last year. He stepped up his game that far."
That starting lineup, the one that Whitfield now would have a chance to crack, was a cohesive unit that finished 29-1 and led St. Mary's to a state championship.
But Whitfield admits that although the ability was always there and frustration set in at times, he wasn't ready last season. As a first-year varsity player in his junior season, he knew he needed to mature on the court and increase his basketball IQ before taking on an increased role.
Then late last season, a realization swept over him. With the starting five all graduating, it would be his team next season, ready or not. He would become the focal point on offense, succeeding Chavaughn Lewis, a first-team All-State selection who averaged 24.8 points.
"Sitting on the bench watching Chavaughn motivated me," Whitfield said. "Seeing what he did last year, I knew I wanted to have that same role. It made me want to become that guy. I started to realize that next year, I'd have to carry the load."
So he spent the summer getting ready. He played AAU ball, highlighted by a trip to Orlando, Fla., for nationals, and spent countless hours in the gym preparing for his senior year.
He entered this season with a new focus, a defensive mind-set and an outside shot to complement his ability to get to the rim. With those newfound skills came what he calls a new feel for the game, as well as the keys to St. Mary's offense.
"It's a lot of pressure," Whitfield said. "I like the pressure. The pressure keeps me going. It makes me want to work hard and live up to the expectation. There are a lot of people watching me, a lot of goals I'm trying to achieve and I hope I can live up to it."
Among his goals are trying to earn a scholarship and lead the Gaels to a third straight Long Island CHSAA championship. Much of that will depend on how quickly the chemistry develops between five new starters, including senior point guard Wilson Molina and 6-9 freshman forward Jessie Govan, and how Whitfield adapts to being the first option.
"I'm definitely ready to take on the role," Whitfield said.
So now when opponents ask, "Who is Travis Whitfield?" it won't be because they don't remember him from last season, but because they want to know where he came from and why there's no scouting report on him.
"The basketball world is a small world and it won't take them long to notice that he is a pretty good player," Harkins said. "He was part of a real good winning program last year and the year before. He wants to do it now. Now it's his time."
It's also time to remember his name.