After a season abroad playing for the Sydney Kings in Australia, Greg Whittington has returned to Sioux Falls for round two in hopes of making it back to the NBA level, something everyone in Whittington’s position is trying to do.
After going undrafted in the 2015 NBA Draft, Whittington signed with the Miami HEAT after playing in nine NBA Summer League games (six starts) and averaging 9.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 1.3 blocks per game in 24 minutes per contest.
Whittington later joined the HEAT for training camp, and later appeared in four preseason games for the NBA club, averaging 2.8 points and 4.8 rebounds in just 16 minutes per game. However, after getting a taste of what it was like to play at the NBA level, Whittington was allocated to the Skyforce as an affiliate player in advance of the 2015-16 season.
It didn’t take long for Whittington to take the D-League by storm, averaging 13.8 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 2.1 steals and 1.0 blocks per game. Though he was sidelined with a wrist injury for much of the middle parts of the season, Whittington managed to appear in 27 regular season games (26 starts) for the Skyforce, and later appeared in all seven of Sioux Falls’ playoff games on the way to winning their first championship since becoming a member of the D-League.
Whittington served as a much-needed spark off the bench, a role he had to adjust to throughout the postseason, averaging 12.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.4 steals per game while playing just under 28 minutes per contest.
In addition to winning the title, and adding a championship ring to his jewelry box, Whitington was named to the NBA D-League All-Rookie team last season. Shortly thereafter, Whittington left for Sydney to continue playing throughout the summer.
In 28 games for the Kings (28 starts) Whittington put up 11.5 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.5 steals per game in just under 31 minutes per contest before rejoining the Skyforce on February 19, 2017 for the remainder of the season.
Whittington recently made his return to Heritage Court for the first time since defeating the Los Angeles D-Fenders in game three of last year’s NBA D-League Finals, and now with four games under his belt, is set to take on the D-Fenders once again on Saturday, March 18.
We caught up with Whittington this week at practice to reminisce on the spectacular season he helped put together a year ago, his time in Australia, and his goals as a player as we approach the end of the 2016-17 regular season. Here’s what he had to say:
Looking back on last season, describe what it was like to be part of that championship run. What was it like to play with those teammates under that coaching staff, and what did winning the title mean to you?
We had a pretty great team. A great coaching staff. We always came in here to work every day. We treated every game like it was a playoff game because we knew that if we came out and competed every game, we’d be set up to come out in the playoffs and keep doing it. Being on that team made it better and special, because being on a championship winning team teaches you how to set goals, be better, and sacrifice for your teammates and just come out with wins.
Setting an NBA Development League record of 40 wins during the regular season is no small feat. How did last year’s squad manage to treat every game with importance, especially when you hear about teams and players taking games off during the regular season to rest?
We treated every day and every game like it was a dog fight. A gridiron game. We knew that we had to treat every game like it was playoff basketball. Each and every possession, no matter what it was, whether it was a free throw or diving on the floor for a loose ball we had to make sure we were coming in and working hard.
How was your time in Australia? Describe Sydney, and what you thought of the level of basketball and the coaching you received during your time there. How did it help you grow as a player?
Basketball over there is definitely competitive, because they have a lot of their Olympic players playing on some of the teams. It’s definitely competitive. Going over there and being under Andrew Gaze, one of the first Australians to ever play in the NBA, I learned a lot. It really helped me grow as a player and become a better man, just learning how to sacrifice for my teammates and focus more on the important things.
How has your game improved over the last couple of seasons?
I think I’ve grown a lot. You know, you’ve got to mature every day and with every game. So every day I come in here and just try to be a better person and help my teammates grind through practices and games and help them push through adversity.
What are some of your goals for the offseason this year? Do you plan on sticking around for a while or heading overseas again like you did last summer?
Right now I’m just trying to keep getting better every day, you know? No matter what it is, dribbling, shooting, getting in better shape, building strength…anything I can do to make myself a better player. Other than that, I’m just trying to make it to an NBA roster and keep grinding. Just like everyone else.
Like you mentioned, everyone’s trying to get to the next level. We know Sioux Falls probably won’t be the last stop in your journey, but what have you appreciated about your time here and the fans that have supported you over the last few seasons?
I’ve appreciated it a lot because the fans come out every night. Whatever day it is…Monday, Wednesday, even on Christmas they’re here and they’re in here cheering us on. It feels good to come in here and play hard for them, you know? The whole Sioux Falls area, people know who we are and they treat us like professionals so it’s good to just give back to the community and come out every game and work hard for them.