The Campbell University men’s basketball team will play its final home game of the regular season tonight, Feb. 27; and the women's basketball team will play its final regular season game tomorrow night, Feb. 28, at High Point. Both teams will also begin play in the Big South Conference Basketball Championships in Conway, S.C., on March 5 and 6. As the regular season winds down and the conference tournament approaches, we talked to two upperclassmen who are in their final seasons as members of their respective squads and who have endured their share of injuries.
From the men’s team: Darren White, a senior guard who was named an Academic All-American in late February and whose season was sidelined in early January because of a knee injury. And from the women’s team: Monique Spry, a redshirt junior guard who worked her way into the starting lineup despite undergoing three knee surgeries in almost as many years.
Spry and White talked to Campbell.edu about what it’s like to be a student-athlete, how they’ve dealt with their injuries, how their roles on their teams have changed, and what they’ll remember about their time at Campbell. The following are edited transcripts.
Monique Spry: The spirited leader
Near the end of her sophomore year on the Campbell University women’s basketball team, guard Monique Spry tore the ACL in her knee. It was the second ACL tear she had suffered, and she underwent her third knee surgery. Doctors gave her a 50/50 chance of playing basketball again.
She sat out all of last season to recover. And though she has lost some quickness, she says, and can play only limited minutes, Spry has worked her way into the starting lineup this season as a redshirt junior. “Going through three surgeries, I didn’t even know if I’d be able to play again,” she says. “To be able to get back on the court today is a blessing.”
Spry started playing basketball when she was 5. She enjoyed the game, but she never thought she would play in college. Instead, she had her mind set on joining the Navy. She had several family members in the military, she says, and being in the Navy “was something I always wanted to do.”
When she was only a freshman at Beddingfield High School in Wilson, N.C., she was named platoon leader of the Junior ROTC program. She also made the varsity basketball team that freshman year, and her high school coach told her that she had a good chance of playing college basketball. Recruiting letters started coming in, too. Spry thought, “OK, then. [College basketball] is what I’ll work toward.”
Though she’ll have one year of eligibility left with the Fighting Camels after this season, Spry has decided to end her college career this year because of knee problems. “My mind and my heart want to keep going, but my body is telling me that it’s time to let it go,” she says.
Why did you choose to attend Campbell and play for the Fighting Camels?
Senior year of high school I got hurt. When I had the surgery to repair my ACL, [Campbell women’s basketball head coach Wanda Watkins] actually came to my surgery. That was a big deal for me. If a coach will come to your surgery, she must really care about you.
You've been through three knee surgeries. What have you learned from the injuries?
To be patient, because everything takes time. I also looked at each injury as an opportunity to grow and to become a better person. When you face adversity, it’s tough; but when you fight through things, it shows that you’re an even tougher person.
Why was it important for you to come back to play basketball this season?
When you have people believe in you, you don’t want to let them down. I don’t want to let my team down.
Coach Watkins has described you as a very spirited player. What do you think she means by that?
I try to encourage the players to keep working hard every day, and I try to be hyped up on the court and in the locker room and get everybody else pumped up.
Where does that spirit come from?
When I sat out last season, one of my teammates, Heather Beadle, told me every day: “Keep pushing, Mo. Keep pushing.” That helped me to get up every day and to go to rehab and work hard. Sometimes I would get down, but to have teammates telling you to keep pushing -- that motivates you to want to keep going. And pretty much everything I have been through motivates me to try to motivate others. When you have everything taken away from you, it makes you more thankful for what you have.
What have you learned from Coach Watkins?
She’s not just a basketball coach; she’s a life coach. She instills in us things that we can use in our lives after college. Every day she gives us a quote, and we use those quotes every day in our life. I thank her for that. She helps us not only on the court but off the court to be leaders and to try to mature ourselves.
What's something she has said that has stuck with you?
Every day Coach comes in here and tells us, “You’re not going to get anywhere if you’re not together.” She wrote on the board a few games ago: “Together to get there.” You’re not going to get anywhere alone.
Why have you decided to forgo your fourth year of eligilbility and end your career as a redshirt junior?
Slowly but surely my body is breaking down, but I will never forget my years here.
What will you remember about your time here?
That it has been a tough journey, but everything happens for a reason. I remember when I first got hurt, I kept asking, “Why?” I had to think about, “Why not me?” God put me in the situation for a reason -- to help me to tell my story to help motivate other people.
What do you hoope your teammates will remember about you?
My energy. Every day I try to come out here and bring good energy. I’m not always going to make the best plays, but I want them to remember how I played those minutes I was in the game. And I hope how I played those minutes helped motivate our team.
What would you like to have accomplished before you basketball career at Campbell ends?
I want to win the conference tournament championship. Even if we don’t win, I hope we go out with a bang and that people will remember Campbell.
What will it take to win the tournament?
Darren White: The Academic All-American
Darren White started playing basketball at a young age because his older brother played. But White never imagined he would play basketball in college. “It was the furthest thing from my mind,” he says. “I thought I was just an average player.”
Then, the summer before his senior year of high school, White joined an AAU team that played in several high-profile basketball tournaments. He started getting attention from colleges; and for the first time, he realized he might be able to play for a Division 1 school.
He went on to accept a basketball scholarship to attend James Madison University. He played there for a year before enrolling at Midland Junior College, in Texas. After a season at Midland, he transferred to Campbell University. As a junior transfer on the Fighting Camels men’s basketball team last season, he averaged 16.8 points a game and was named to the Big South All-Conference’s second team.
This year, as a senior and the pre-season Big South Player of the Year, he was averaging 21.8 points a game before suffering a knee injury on Jan. 5 that has sidelined him since. But his performance the first part of the season was strong enough that he earned a spot on the Academic All-American third team, which was announced on Feb. 21. On track to graduate this year, White is an information technology and security major with a 3.66 GPA.
Where does being named to the Academic All-American team rank among your accomplishments?
It ranks as high as my greatest basketball accolades. It’s great to be recognized for the hard work that I put into the classroom.
How do you manage being a student and an athlete -- and doing both well?
Doing well in the classroom has always been important to me. It’s easy to come up with an excuse to not put the effort into it and say I have all this other stuff to do, but there are no excuses.
Where did the importance come from?
I’m a perfectionist. It was never good enough for me to get B’s and C’s. I always wanted to get A’s. It has been like this my whole life.
What is it like to be a student-athlete?
It’s not easy by any stretch of the imagination. Playing a collegiate sport is like a full-time job. You have things you have to do all day, every day. It’s tough to balance.
How have you managed to do it?
I've learned how to work under pressure.
You started your collegiate career at James Madison and then spent a season at Midland Junior College before coming to Campbell. Why Campbell?
Unfortunately, I didn’t fit well with the program at James Madison. I had a good year when I was at the junior college, but I suffered an injury. It was a tough period of time because all the schools giving me attention, like Colorado, Georgia Tech and Clemson, kind of disappeared. One school stuck with me through the whole time -- Campbell. Because of that, it was a no-brainer that I ended up here.
And Campbell has been a good fit?
A great fit.
It’s a small university. It has helped me focus. The hardest classes I’ve taken in college have probably been here, but I’ve done the best academically here because I’ve been able to focus.
How does Campbell fit your personality?
I’m quiet and keep to myself. I’m not really a person to be around a lot of people. This being a small, community-based university that offers a lot of support has been great for me.
You injured your knee on Jan. 5 and haven’t played since. How have you been doing with the injury?
The recovery is going well, and it’s getting better little by little. But I wish I could get out there and start playing. There’s just not enough time for me to get back out there.
What has been the hardest thing about missing nearly half of your senior year?
Watching my team and knowing that I can talk to them but I can’t really help them. I wish I could help those guys out.
How would you describe your role with the team now?
I’m not the vocal leader on the floor anymore, but I’m always there to give advice. I try to be in the back of their head and motivate them.
What have you learned from the injury?
Things won’t always go my way, and what I have envisioned for myself probably won’t happen right away. But the key is to stay focused and to not give up. I think this will make me even hungrier for the things I want to accomplish.
What do you want to accomplish?
To play professionally and to play at the highest level -- the NBA. I think I can get there in time. I thought it would be an easier route if I could have finished this season and do well at the pre-draft camps, but I might not get that opportunity right away. Maybe after couple of seasons overseas, I’ll have my chance again.
As graduation gets closer, what's going through your mind?
The fact I’m going to graduate from college is surreal. I knew it was going to eventually happen, but me being the first one out of my family to get a bachelor’s degree is kind of a big deal. I know my family is proud, and Campbell has been so supportive. I’m not even playing now, but people will stop me on campus and ask me how I am doing. The fact that people care means a lot to me.
Read more Campbell Proud profiles »
Interviews conducted by and edited by Cherry Crayton, Digital Content Coordinator
Photos by Bennett Scarborough