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Ross kept telling Whaley to come to practice, come help and sit on the bench during games. The two became friends right away. Whaley’s past became irrelevant. So, in October, Whaley finally went to a practice. He’s been with the team ever since.
On this day, Whaley leads a drill where he misses a free throw that morphs into a fast break on the other end. Except he has trouble missing the free throw, his shooting touch still very much evident. After one make, he laughs along with the kids. He’s very much in his element, very much at ease. Finally, he misses. The players take the rebound and race up the floor. The ball finds a shooter in the corner.
About Robert Whaley
» Originally from Benton Harbor, Michigan
» Was ranked as the top center in the country coming out of high school
» Played 23 games for the Utah Jazz in 2005
» Was traded to the Toronto Raptors, where his NBA career ended
» Faced a series of legal issues during and after his playing days
» Is an assistant coach with the Utah Elite AAU program
"It’s a humbling experience to have it all and have it be taken away," Ross said. "But Robert is such a good person. When you get to know him, it’s like you can’t believe it’s the same person who had all of those problems. He’s been great with the kids. They look up to him, and they know that he’s been in the NBA and at the top. He’s been where they want to go, and they listen to him."
Ross was more than willing to give Whaley a chance. He told his players he had been in trouble in the past, without being too specific. He also told them that everyone is entitled to a do-over in life.
"I never want to judge what another man has gone through," Ross said. "I just know that Robert has been great when he’s been with us. He’s set a great example for the kids."
For Whaley, it’s about giving back. It’s about being a good father — his son Robert Jr. plays on the team. It’s about working hard.
He now has a steady job working at a local Marriott, he’s married and settled down. Whaley’s even writing a book, on education. He doesn’t make the hundreds of thousands of dollars he used to as an NBA player, but he’s perfectly fine with it. At age 32, Whaley feels like he’s finally winning at the game of basketball, and in the game of life.
"I feel like I’ve found my platform," he said. "I’m blessed to be around this group of kids. They are great players and disciplined kids. I feel like I’m in a great situation."
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