Whalen Deskins had heard of South Puget Sound Community College (SPSCC) in Olympia, he just never knew he’d be playing basketball there one day. Heck, Deskins never figured he’d be playing college basketball at all, considering he didn’t make varsity until his senior year.
“I wasn’t expecting to go play college basketball after high school,” said Deskins, a 2021 W.F. West graduate.
Facing what he thought would be the final competitive basketball of his career — as the Bearcats approached the playoffs in the beginning of June 2021 — he put everything he had into those final few games.
The universe, it turned out, was not ready for him to quit playing.
W.F. West coach Chris White invited the Clippers’ coaching staff to the Bearcats’ season finale against Black Hills. Deskins, who had no idea the Clippers’ coaches were there, put on the game of his life. Deskins scored 13 of his game-high 18 points in the first half, including three 3-pointers in the first quarter, to help the Bearcats to a 59-47 victory and claim the league title.
Deskins had messaged Clippers head coach Jonathan Willis before, who seemed uninterested in the 6-foot-4 power forward at the time. Even after that big game against Black Hills, Deskins didn’t hear from Willis until after he graduated on July 13, just three days before the Clippers needed their roster set.
“He said, ‘Hey, we really want you on the team. Are you down to play?,’” Deskins said. “He said, ‘We need to know right now so we can get this going.’ I said, ‘Yeah, sure, that’s not a problem. I want to play.’”
That’s how it all went down. A one-hour conversation and Deskins has found a roster spot on a college team. No one had taken an interest in Deskins beforehand and this was his first real conversation with a college coach.
“I was ecstatic,” Deskins said. “No one had shown interest in me. The feeling of fulfillment from that was amazing because all my hard work paid off.”
See, Deskins had spent his sophomore season on the C-team, a time when most college-bound players were either starting on varsity or at least on a varsity roster. He spent his entire junior year on JV and didn’t earn a varsity spot until this past season as a senior.
But he made the most of the opportunity, earning his way to a starting role and finishing the season as the Bearcats’ third-leading scorer and rebounder with eight points and 4.6 rebounds per game. He would go on to earn second team all-2A Evergreen Conference honors.
He credits his breakout success to the coaching staff at W.F. West and his personal trainer, Dylan Boman.
“I was finally hitting my stride,” Deskins said. “All those guys have been there to support me and help me along the way. This year finally clicked for me. It was definitely a good year.”
White said Deskins created his own destiny by outworking everyone in the gym every day. And it was his vocal and compassionate leadership that cemented his status on the team this past year.
“He has a great motor, does a lot of tough work, gets boards, loose balls and is the first on the floor,” White said. “He runs the floor hard both ways, can finish well at the rim and has a beautiful 3-point shot. Whalen is an absolute pleasure to coach and his growth over the last few years is a great story. Whalen is proof that hard work can pay off.”
After putting in the work to earn a spot on the Clippers, Deskins rushed to transfer his financial aid and enroll at SPSCC so he could officially join the basketball roster. It was four hours of work each night for three straight days to complete all his paperwork in time.
He’s also looking forward to playing against former Bearcat teammate Carter McCoy, who’s signed with Lower Columbia College. Both Deskins’ and McCoy’s teams are in the West Division of the Northwest Athletic Conference.
“I’m really excited to play against him because he’s one of my best friends,” Deskins said. “I’m always looking for a little bit of friendly rivalry.”
Deskins has now been doing summer workouts with the team every day for the past three weeks in preparation for Sept. 6, when the rest of his out-of-state teammates arrive. Schedules have not yet been released for the 2021-22 season.
As he prepares for his future and reflects on the past, Deskins said he’ll most remember the family bond that was created while playing for Bearcat basketball. Coach White is big on his teams having a family mentality, bringing the players together to hangout at his house or eat meals together at restaurants. It’s the friendships established there that will last in his mind.
“This senior year, I’ve never played on a team or in a program that was so united toward one goal,” Deskins said. “It’s always been a family environment, but this year took it to a whole new level with a shortened season and no state tournament. We just wanted to make every second count. There was definitely a brotherhood formed that I don’t see going away any time soon.”