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Damani Whitlock’s next chapter fueled by ‘Last Chance U’ grit

Damani Whitlock’s next chapter fueled by ‘Last Chance U’ grit
Damani Whitlock is averaging over seven points per game in his first season with Texas A&M-Texarkana. (Courtesy: Texas A&M University-Texarkana Athletics)

TEXARKANA, Tex. (BVM) – Whether it’s been football or basketball, the Netflix series “Last Chance U” has produced plenty of lovable stars over the years. One of the most recent has become Damani Whitlock.

Featured in Season 2 of “Last Chance U: Basketball,” Whitlock showed toughness and grit on the court as a player who does all the dirty work for his team to succeed. For the coaching staff at East Los Angeles College (ELAC), that was enough to earn Whitlock significant playing time, even if others on the squad may have had more talent.

“There’s guys on our team who think they are more talented than Damani, but not one of them will say they should be playing instead of him,” ELAC assistant coach Rob Robinson said during the show. “That’s how much respect they have.”

While the play on the court makes it easy to become a fan of Whitlock, so too does his story off of the hardwood. 

Damani Whitlock Texas A&M-Texarkana Eagles basketball Last Chance U Basketball ELAC
While already known for his defense, Damani Whitlock has also improved his offensive numbers across the board this season with Texas A&M-Texarkana. (Courtesy: Texas A&M University-Texarkana Athletics)

A native of Long Beach, California, Whitlock’s basketball talent was first recognized at St. Anthony High School, where he also played football and baseball while competing in track. He later concluded his high school basketball career at Scale Prep Academy.

After high school, Whitlock went off to play for the University of Hawai’i at Hilo. He spent the first two years of his college basketball career averaging over six points per game before returning home when his father contracted COVID-19 during the early stages of the pandemic. 

Whitlock chose to stay in California to continue his college basketball career, leading him to ELAC. As soon as he was there, it was clear the 6-foot guard would be a key to his new team’s success. A team player who only wants to win, Whitlock is known for his defensive toughness and taking charges. 

During the season, he took a hard elbow to the face while playing defense which injured his nose. Although he didn’t have a concussion, Whitlock was ordered to wear a mask during his time on the court, but that ended quickly after he removed the mask in frustration from a foul he had committed.

It’s not the first time Whitlock has taken a hard shot to the face and continued playing, either. During the series, a story was revealed of Whitlock once taking an elbow to the face, losing his tooth, finding it on the court, and then putting it back in his pocket as he continued to play defense. 

Damani Whitlock Texas A&M-Texarkana Eagles basketball Last Chance U ELAC
Damani Whitlock has the Texas A&M-Texarkana Eagles in position to win the Red River Athletic Conference this season. (Courtesy: Texas A&M University-Texarkana Athletics)

Meanwhile, the nose injury was also not the only health issue Whitlock had last season, as in the first episode, one of the main storylines became a medical scare the guard endured that sent him to the ER. It was discovered the pain he was having in his chest was due to an enlarged heart, but eventually, Whitlock was able to get back on the floor.

In addition to adversity within the sport, Whitlock also faced it outside of the gym while at ELAC. Late in the season, Whitlock endured a true scare as his father had messaged him telling him that he was in a tornado and was not sure he’d survive, creating obvious panic for the young guard. Whitlock could not endure the thought of losing his dad, who was a longtime basketball coach and taught him the game. Thankfully, all ended up being alright.

Overall, in 21 games and nine starts last season for the Huskies, Whitlock averaged 2.1 points, 0.9 rebounds, and 1.9 assists on offense, while consistently drawing charges and leading the team’s defense, making 25 steals. By the end of the year, it was clear he had become the heart and soul of ELAC’s squad.

“He’s a guy that can bring tears to my eyes,” ELAC head coach John Mosley said during the show. “He’s the epitome of what a player … how they should be and how they should be approaching the game. He is the epitome of how I want everybody to approach the game.”

After a successful season at ELAC, Whitlock has moved on from the JUCO level to the NAIA with Texas A&M-Texarkana

So far this season, Whitlock has helped the Eagles to a strong start, as he is playing 24 minutes per game, averaging 7.2 points on 39% shooting as well as 2.1 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.4 steals.

Currently, the Eagles are in prime position to win the Red River Athletic Conference, and continued solid play from veteran players like Whitlock on both ends will likely be a big key to how their season ends up.

Regardless of where things go from here, it is clear Whitlock has made his presence known every time he steps on the court. He may not have the size or the talent some of his past, current or future teammates possess, but he’s going to give it his all any time he steps on the hardwood. That’s what made him a fan-favorite on “Last Chance U” at ELAC, and it’s what will continue to make him successful through the next chapters of his journey.