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Living the dream: Trip exposes writer to the personalities behind the stories ... and some great sushi

October 21, 2017 Updated: October 25, 2017 at 4:33 pm
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I know very few people who can consistently pull off the “living the dream” response.

Those who can are generally filled with so much energy and excitement that they can’t help themselves. Ask them how they’re doing and they really are “living the dream.” And that’s great.

I’m usually a little too reserved and mellow for that. But after my travels and experiences of recent days, I’d definitely say I’m living the dream.

On Wednesday, I flew to San Antonio for a story that had everything you would want as a sports fan. Or human being.

Derrick White, a native of the Denver area, played basketball locally at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs (a Division II program) because nobody else wanted him. A juco in Wyoming did, but that’s beyond the point.

I love the saying, “Whatever you are, be a good one.” Well, White decided if he was going to be a D-II player, he’d be a great one. After three years, he had transformed the UCCS program and was among the nation’s best at that level. He then transferred to Colorado as a senior to gain exposure and test himself against some of the best in college basketball. He aced that test, too, and the San Antonio Spurs picked him in the first round (29th pick) this past summer.

On Wednesday, White made his debut and my sports editor Matt Wiley sent me to witness it.

White would have been interesting enough on his own with that remarkable story. I mean, how many first-round picks have student loans?

But, to me, what made this story even more compelling was the time spent talking to his parents and grandparents at their hotel in the hours before tip-off.

His dad, Richard White, is a lifelong NBA fan. He remembers timing trips to the barber as a kid in Boston to be there when Bill Russell and other great Celtics players would return from road trips and visit the same place for a trim.

Now, his son was playing in that league. And Richard had an active role in making that happen, even helping Derrick analyze lower-level college rosters to find the right fit. I can’t imagine the pride he was feeling that day.

And the same was true for Derrick’s mother, Colleen, who was every bit as active in the journey and used to drive him to open gyms to try to catch a college coach’s eye. Now, she was watching her son suit up for one of the class organizations in all of sport.

And speaking of class, Derrick’s grandparents, Jerry and Virginia McManus, are the kind of warm, classy people who have nothing but nice things to say about everyone and everything. These high-school sweethearts talk with as much pride and love about their beloved daughter with developmental disabilities as they do their grandson who now wears an NBA jersey. The couple will soon have their 19th grandchild. Those 19 hit the grandparent jackpot.

The family welcomed me in and allowed me to learn things that truly surprised me. For example, Richard had to fly back early the next morning to return to work in an I.T. department at a company in the Denver area. He has burned through his vacation time and can’t just follow his NBA-playing son at the risk of abandoning his responsibilities. You think LaVar Ball, whose son was taken in the same round of the same draft, is living in that same world? I saw LaVar putting on his act with ESPN reporters while on a flight the next night. Give me some more time with Richard White over that any day.

By the way, Derrick White checked in for the final 11 seconds of the game as the Spurs won.

This was an ordinary family whose son has unlocked an extraordinary talent, and they are just proudly enjoying the ride. It was an honor to ride along for a day.

I booked a late flight out of San Antonio on Thursday in hopes that my sister might be able to come over from Houston and enjoy some River Walk sightseeing with me the day after White’s debut.

When conflicts prevented that from happening, I racked my brain to think of productive ways to spend the day. It occurred to me that Weston Steelhammer, one of the all-time great Air Force football players and one whose career I had the pleasure of watching from start to finish, was stationed in the area. I reached out to him and we got together for lunch at a Torchy’s Tacos (which was excellent, by the way, try the Baja Shrimp and Mr. Orange tacos).

As great as Steelhammer was, he was always a little guarded when talking with media at Air Force. His eventual transition to coaching will be a seamless one, because he already speaks the language.

So it was great to spend some time just talking about his years with the Falcons without that player/reporter wall.

Eventually I turned on the recorder and we conducted a formal Q&A for our readers (and a video with some additional football-related talk). But it was the time the recorder was off that I feel I finally got to know a guy I’ve known for several years.

I appreciate him taking the time to meet with me and give me a window into life on active duty. Too often I see only what takes place for cadet-athletes at the academy. This time I was given a glimpse at what comes next.

Then it was off to Reno, Nevada, for Air Force’s Friday night game against the Wolf Pack.

I was never a big fan of the city, but for whatever reason I viewed it in a different light on this trip. It reminds me of Boise in some ways (and we know how much I love Boise). I love the size and convenient location of the airport. It has a unique and active downtown. I’m spoiled by Pikes Peak, but the views really are quite epic. And in Sparks, where I generally stay, it has some beautiful suburban areas.

I stumbled upon a lunch at J.J.’s Sushi in Sparks, and that was an excellent decision. The flavor of their sushi rolls, aided by ingredients like cilantro and tempura onion, was exquisite. It instantly became my favorite sushi spot in the state, and that’s really saying something considering I’ve filled more than one frequent-diner card at the off-the-strip gem Sushi 21 in Las Vegas.

With a happy stomach I settled in for quite a football game. Air Force had one of its most prolific running games in history – which, again, is saying something – and beat Nevada 45-42 on a field goal as time expired.

The only problem with that was the game ended at 10:06 p.m. Pacific Time, and I had to file a story at 10:10. I made deadline, somehow. Had Luke Strebel’s kick not gone through, I didn’t have a backup plan.

So, thanks Luke!

Speaking of Strebel, I bumped into his parents and grandparents at the airport on Saturday morning. As a sports writer, you get into a routine of watching detached from the press box and talking to the coaches and key players. But you kind of lose sight of those on the periphery who are completely invested in these athletes and teams. About 12 hours after he hit that kick, his family was still beaming.

Finally, I returned home. My three girls couldn’t wait to model their “Annie” Halloween costumes that my beautiful wife had just finished making for them.

I was then treated to a performance of a few songs from the musical from three adorable orphans who had clearly been practicing.

So, if you ask me right now, I won’t hesitate to answer.

I’m living the dream.

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