A love for basketball has brought one small-town girl to the Cowboy State to play NCAA Division I hoops for an undefeated (4-0) University of Wyoming team this winter.
“Lots of people I know are really surprised that I come from a small town,” said freshman Whitney Gordon, a Marion High School alum. “It is possible to come out of a small town and make it to Division I.”
Gordon, a 6 foot, 2 inch forward, brought the Warriors strength at the post position and earned multiple all-league honors before being recruited to the Cowboys for this season.
“I was surprised how smooth the transition was to come here,” Gordon said, adding that she’s still learning a lot and picking up things every day.
It isn’t her first experience competing against bigger, stronger players, she said, since she played summer ball—something she highly recommends for high school hopefuls wanting a Division I opportunity.
But the transition was still challenging.
“I wasn’t used to how hard the practices are—every day being ready to go 100 percent,” she said.
At practice, Gordon said she is assigned to guard one of the seniors who is probably one of the best players on the team.
“It’s a challenge every single day, rising to the challenge of playing against the seniors and starters,” Gordon said. “We’re all getting better together and I?feel like I’m getting better myself.”
Gordon’s coaches seem to agree, saying the former Warrior continues to improve amid a steep learning curve.
“We’re excited that Whitney is a part of our program,” said coach Joe Legerski, who is in his 10th season with the Cowboys.
“Her ability to be able to shoot the basketball from the perimeter is tremendous,” he said, “and she continues to make strides to become a more complete player.”
Legerski said that her size and length allow her to change shots and pull down rebounds, but most importantly in their system, she can make those plays on the perimeter.
Legerski said Gordon is a great teammate. She understands the role of each player and improves team chemistry.
“She’s an integral part of what we’re doing this year,” he said, “and more importantly, in the future.”
Gordon said her coaches always focus on getting better one day at a time. And they take the time to give personal attention and instruction.
Legerski will say “those little things” that motivate her. Assistant coach Katie Kern meets with her every week to discuss grades and remind her that she has potential.
Coaches Gerald Mattinson and Mike Petrino work in practice to fix mistakes and help Gordon step up her game.
“They all have their own role on the team, but all of them together constantly say, ‘Keep up the good work. Keep getting better,’” Gordon said.
“I really like that everyone around me is pushing for me,” she added. “Whenever I step on the floor, I hear my teammates yelling for me.”
Support from teammates isn’t limited to the court. That becomes obvious when Gordon begins talking about her friend and teammate, Kaitlyn Mileto.
“She’s always saying, ‘Don’t worry about anything around you. Just focus on you and making good decisions,’” Gordon said. “If you’re making good decisions outside of practice, it’ll carry over onto the court.
“All of them are really good at telling me something I’ve messed up on and can fix, but she’s also helping me make good decisions off the court.”
Life off the court carries its own challenges for student-athletes. It can be a difficult balancing act to find time for studies amid basketball and a social life.
“Living in the dorms and everything, you have to make sure and stay focused because you have friends wanting to hang out and basketball and everything,” Gordon said. “It’s a lot of making sure you have a planner and making sure everything is organized.”
She said the main aspect of academics she has struggled with is that so much is online, Even if a partcular class doesn’t meet, she still might have something due.
But Gordon, a business major who said she’ll likely go into marketing and management, said there’s one major advantage to her line of study—most of her classes are in the same room.
That may not sound like a big deal, but in country where the weather is chilly and often unpredictable, she said, it’s definitely a bonus.
“One day it was perfectly nice and we all wore shorts to practice,” Gordon said, “and when we came out there was snow everywhere. It had snowed hard-core in that two-hour time.”
But, she said, she’s adjusting and found a good winter coat.
“I’m getting used to the cold,” she said, adding with a laugh, “It’s been like 30 every single day. In Kansas, when it’s 30, it’s getting ready to snow.”
Gordon has yet to make the trek home due to road games over the Thanksgiving holidays, but she said she’s excited to come back for Christmas and see friends and family—and, of course, her dog.
But soon enough she’ll hit the road again, back to Wyoming and her chance at hoops history.