Without Whyte…a strange summer for UA women’s hoops

This summer hasn’t felt quite the same for the University of Arizona women’s basketball team.

The players still attended summer school while getting in regular strength and conditioning workouts.  And time was also set aside for pitching in on community projects, which also serves as good bonding opportunities.

But since the first week in June when they all reported back to campus to begin the summer program, there have been some changes that have made this summer, well… strange.

For the first time, the NCAA has allowed the coaches to get on the floor with the players and provide instruction as part of the workouts, although the coaches are limited in the number of hours allowed each week.  But it’s still a real change from when the players had to rely on each other to organize and execute the drills they had learned from the previous season.

The players also needed to adjust to another new coach.  Sean LeBeauf, a successful coach at the junior-college level, was added as an assistant on the coaching staff in May (see phxfan article 5/4/13).

But adjusting to new coaches is something the team has gotten used to.  Head coach Niya Butts has lost two associate head coaches over the past two seasons and LeBeauf is the third new assistant coach in as many years.  None of the current assistant coaches were part of Butts’ first staff when she took over in 2008.

What really gives this summer a different feel than in years past, however, is the absence of Davellyn Whyte.

This is the first off-season in four years without Whyte, the do-everything guard from St. Mary’s High School in Phoenix who graduated last year with the second-highest career point (2,059) totals in school history.  She ranks in the top four in nine of the all-time career categories.

Her presence was felt each and every night of the regular season, as well as during preparations each off-season for the coming campaign.  She started and played in every single game during her four-year career in Tucson, scoring in double figures in 100 of the 126 games in which she played, and posted the first triple-double in program history.

Many consider her to be the best all-around women’s basketball player in UA history.

Whyte was taken in the WNBA draft by the San Antonio Stars with the 16th pick – which sets another record.  She is the highest draft pick among the seven who have entered the pro ranks from the Wildcats program through the years.

But there is a really unsettling thought when you consider the impact of her time with the program.  Despite her record-setting contributions, the Cats have managed just one winning season in the five years under Butts.  A 20-win season in 2010-11 was the one bright spot, when that team finished fifth in the conference.  But the rest of the years have been embarrassing.

The program is coming off a 12-18 season in which the team won just four conference games and wrapped the season with a first-round exit in the Pac-12 Tournament.  The year before was more of the same, with a 15-17 record and three conference wins.  That resulted in a last-place conference finish followed by an 11th place finish.

So life with Whyte will go on as this year’s edition wraps up the summer program next week.  The 2013-14 squad will enter play with a roster that includes four seniors, two juniors, four sophomores, and four freshmen – a  good spread over the years that provides both experience and fresh talent, something that bodes well for the future of the program.

However, whether Butts will be a part of that future will depend in large part on the results of this season.  Time is running out on this re-building project.

And whatever success is realized this season, it will have to happen this time without the help of one of the best players in the history of the program on the floor.

Which has made this summer’s work all the more important.

(Photo: Arizona Athletics)