Whitman College Star Ascends to New Heights with Spot at Portsmouth Invite

You’ve probably never heard of David Michaels.

You probably also didn’t know that over the next three days David Michaels plans to be known by the likes of Danny Ainge (GM of Boston Celtics), John Paxton (Chicago Bulls GM), Larry Bird (GM of Indiana Pacers), and Pat Riley (Miami Heat GM)?

And yet you probably still won’t know who he is. Such are the challenges of a Division III basketball player in Walla Walla, Washington. But you aren’t alone. It is safe to say that a year ago David Michaels’s coaches didn’t know him really either. It is safe to say that a year ago David Michaels didn’t really know himself.

This all changed with a decision by Michaels to live out a common cliché. He decided to get better every single day.  It seems simple and it seems contrived, yet it is exactly what happened. Michaels went from relative obscurity and bench player at Whitman College to a Division III All-American through good old fashioned hard work. Granted Michaels has game, but it wasn’t until he started working tirelessly that his fortune changed. And it culminates this week with a trip to the Portsmouth Invitational where NBA GMs and scouts will watch Michaels compete as one of only two Division III players. In fact, in the history of the Portsmouth Invitational only five Division III players have ever been invited, highlighted by Devean George of Augsburg who later played for the Los Angeles Lakers. No Division III player had been invited to Portsmouth since 2004. Yet Michaels will be there this week playing with high profile Division I stars like Jordan Taylor of Wisconsin, Kim English of Missouri, Ashton Gibbs of Pittsburgh, Kyle Kuric of Louisville, Yancy Gates of Cincinnati, and Devoe Joseph or Oregon. And David Michaels will be the first to tell you that getting to this point was pretty unlikely.

As a five year old, Michaels was drawn to baseball. It became his first love. Basketball wasn’t even on his radar until middle school.

“My first memory of basketball that I had was trying out for my middle school team and getting cut,” Michaels said.

While Michaels didn’t thrive as a young player, he obviously has talent. He put up 10 points and 10 rebounds per game as a senior at Valley High School in Las Vegas, where he moved to in 1999. He had options of where to play after high school including Division II National Champions Western Washington and walking on at UNLV, but Michaels was drawn to Whitman College in Walla Walla. Michaels liked the academic prestige of the school consistently ranked among the West Coast’s best for liberal arts. Head Coach Eric Bridgeland simply liked the fact that Michaels could fill a roster spot.

Coach Eric Bridgeland

“We had just gotten the job and knew that only seven players were retuning off a 5-20 team. Number one – we needed bodies!” joked Bridgeland.

Bridgeland knew Michaels could play, but he never expected the season the Vegas baller turned in this past year. Michaels spent much of his first three years at Whitman getting by – both on the court and in the classroom. He had a 2.8 GPA and averaged 8.6 points while playing 19 minutes a game as a junior. He did just enough to start occasionally for the Missionaries and just enough to know he was floating through life.

Then one day it all changed. It sounds surreal that Michaels would just wake up and start working harder without some life-altering event, but that is exactly what happened. Michaels was simply tired of being average.

“To be completely honest, I still do not know what exactly made me want to get out of bed and start running on a treadmill every morning,” said Michaels. “But something woke me up and gave me a focus to my life that I have never had before, and ever since then I haven’t looked back.”

To say Michaels never looked back is an understatement. Michaels had just finished his junior season where Whitman went 19-8 and recorded a playoff win for the first time since 1985. And in spite of his improvement that season, he decided it wasn’t enough. So he got up every single morning at 6:30 a.m. to run on a treadmill and shoot. Then he would go to class. Michaels’s routine continued at the gym where he worked on individual moves. Go to class again. Come back to the gym and play 1 on 1 or work on counter moves. Play in open gym. Lift weights. Study in library. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Coach Bridgeland couldn’t help but notice.

“David decided to BE someone and not just drift through life,” Bridgeland said. “He sincerely took steps to be the best person, student, teammate and player he could be, from that day forward. David put two feet into being a player and seeing how good he could become. His priority became the betterment of himself.”

David Michaels

David Michaels continued this transformation in the summer while balancing a summer internship with the local baseball team the Walla Walla Sweets. Michaels worked out 4-6 hours per day because he refused to be average. And sure enough, when the season came Michaels was anything but average. Michaels put up 31 points early in the year against Chapman and recorded Player of the Week honors in Northwest Conference. He did it again in January while leading Whitman to a victory over rival Whitworth, ending their 22 game home winning streak. He did it all year long, leading the Missionaries in nearly every category statistically including points (20.0/game), rebounds (6.0/game), steals (1.4/game) and blocks (0.6/game). Michaels shot 55% from the field, 78% from the free throw line and 46% from three point land. He scored in all varieties and earned the attention of Division III coaches throughout the country. All of a sudden everyone knew in Division III knew who David Michaels was.

Michaels was named the Northwest Conference’s Player of the Year, as well as making the NABC First Team All-West Region making him the first Missionary player to earn such an honor. He played in the Division III Reese’s All-Star game. He became a Division III success story. And the story should end here. The story should end with David Michaels having a nice college career at little Whitman College and Pat Riley never knowing who he is. But somehow it didn’t. The Portsmouth Invitational called.

“I was very excited. I couldn’t believe that I actually got invited,” Michaels said. “I felt very honored to receive such an invitation because not too many guys get this offer extended to them at our level.”

David Michaels begins Thursday a three day journey at Portsmouth that may end in success or it may end in him being average compared to the competition. He probably won’t make it to the NBA. Even Michaels knows this as he hopes for a career in Europe starting next season. But chances are at some point in the next three days Larry Bird turns to Danny Ainge and says, “Who is this David Michaels?”

And they will know his name, as will the rest of us.

He is David Michaels.

Follow David each day at http://www.portsmouthinvitational.com/. We will be updating you on how he does at Wait For It Seattle.