If asked to name the first thing that came to mind given the country of Canada, most people would promptly answer with hockey. Although other sports and other leagues exist in Canada, hockey is the national pastime and passion for many Canadians. But for Wisconsin women’s basketball freshman Dakota Whyte, who grew up in Ajax, Ontario, just outside of Toronto, hockey was not her first love, nor was basketball for that matter.
“I really loved tennis, and I really wanted to be a tennis player, Whyte said. “I guess my dad when I was younger knew that I had long arms or something, and he was just like, ‘Dakota it’s either tennis or basketball.'”
“He just really pushed me to play basketball, so I ended up just loving the sport.”
So instead of lacing up her skates and taking to the ice, Whyte took to the neighborhood basketball court with her dad – ball in hand rather than stick and puck – where her love for the sport of basketball began. Whyte was a mere six years old when she began to play at the park with her dad, but she quickly moved on to bigger and better courts because of her ability.
This was especially evident in high school, when the lesser level of competition in Canada combined with Whyte’s ability made way for improved opportunities than those available at the high school level.
During her high school years, Whyte played at Notre Dame Catholic High School, but that was only a fraction of her basketball life. She also participated on a club team during high school, her provincial team for Ontario and more notably the Canadian National Junior team.
From the many experiences on those teams came a gold and silver medal with Team Ontario, but she also had many fond memories playing abroad.
“I played many places overseas, but I’d say my best experience being overseas would be in Italy,” Whyte said. “I played three-on-three basketball. It was just an amazing experience, and just to know how basketball can evolve into something like three-on-three was amazing for me.”
Not only did Whyte’s basketball skills lead to opportunities in Canada, but they also helped her to receive attention from universities in the United States. Growing up, Whyte watched Big Ten basketball on television with her step-dad, and in the back of her mind, she always knew she wanted to play basketball at the college level.
Whyte had a short list of schools for where she wanted to attend college in the U.S., along with being recruited in Canada, but her decision ultimately boiled down to the intangibles, including school colors.
“I didn’t take a lot of visits, so it was either Wisconsin or Dayton, but I really loved Wisconsin because of coach Bobbie,” Whyte said. “Ever since she started to recruit me, we had a great relationship, and she just made me see that I can fulfill my dreams here. I loved the campus, the atmosphere; I loved the colors that were red and white because they are the Canadian colors. It was definitely a good fit for me.”
Since she has arrived on Wisconsin’s campus, Whyte has not only had to adjust to the college and U.S. way of basketball, but also life in another country. Thus far, she is enjoying her experiences on campus, classes included, especially the fact that people in the United States and Wisconsin are so passionate about their sports teams. Whyte has also enjoyed her experiences on the court as well, seeing increased playing time in her first year.
Wisconsin head coach Bobbie Kelsey noted that the game is the same everywhere, it’s simply that Whyte has to adapt to who she is playing with, not where.
“The level of competition is not as high [in Canada] as it is here in the states. The ball is still round; the basket is still ten foot,” Kelsey said. “It’s just some of the nuances of playing with better athletes, then you have to then taper your game to who you’re playing with and against, and she’s learning that.”
Whyte has already shown signs of adapting well, most recently in Wisconsin’s game last Saturday where she scored a career-high 13 points in only 19 minutes of play. Kelsey hopes once Whyte learns the system better and has more in-game experience, she will be able to lead the team as the point guard, like captain Tiera Stephen is doing now.
If Whyte does what is asked of her and has confidence, one of Wisconsin’s other captains, junior Morgan Paige, believes Whyte has the ability to be a great player this year and in the years to come for the Badgers.
“It’s a confidence thing with her; if we can keep her believing that she is doing the right thing, she is really hard to beat and she’s just hard to guard,” Paige said. “Her potential is out of this world, she just has to believe it.”