By Kelly Bond-White
I watched as every emotion ran down Danielle’s cheek. As the crowd rose to their feet, the redness in her cheeks magnified. Sure she’d heard those sounds of amazement and affection through thunderous applause, as fans marveled at her talents. However, she could always deflect such prays and note those cheers were for her teammates as well. This night as her hand and suit jacket tried to catch each moment that fell from her eye. The spotlight landed where it rightfully belonged.
D, DA, or Dano as my daughter calls before she runs and jumps in her arms, would never write this blog. The words just don’t seem to come when asked to talk about herself. However, if you ask her about Aggieland, her coaches, family, faith, and teammates, she’ll leave the audience in tears as she did last Friday night.
“1st off I’d like to thank the (12th Man) Letterman’s Association. I never thought of this day in my life.”
We in Aggieland were just grateful Danielle chose us as her canvas. So it was definitely not shocking when in her acceptance speech, she thanked the voting panel and all of Aggieland first. Merriam-Webster defines the act of being humble as, “showing a modest estimate of one’s own importance”. While Danielle never thought the day was possible, then Aggie Coach Johnnie Harris knew exactly what the quiet kid entering our locker-room could do. “Just trust me!” Coach Harris’s personality and talents were very similar to Danielle’s, even her Twitter handle starts with Humble Heart. A nod to her demeanor and faith-driven approach. By the time we were recruiting Danielle, and Johnnie said “trust me”, you did just that! The tears Danielle showed this night, we first saw in her family’s eyes after she played her first NCAA game. We had just beaten Duke at Reed Arena. The Aggie faithful stayed on their feet and were in a frenzy after D splashed her first three-pointer and ended the night with 20+ points. Her Grandmom, Mom, and Aunt were overcome with emotion. They couldn’t believe over 10,000 Aggies were screaming for their baby.
Well, Aggieland and our coaching staff were sure glad we trusted Coach Harris. As teary-eyed Danielle turned her thanks and attention to Coach Blair and her coaches.
“Coach Blair thank you for a great two years. Thanks for believing in me when no one else would. You gave me an opportunity; I will never regret a day in my life”.
Some wondered how the soft-spoken sweetheart would translate on the court. Coach Blair simply referred to Danielle as his Charles Barkley (Charles ain’t never shot the ball like D). However, as coaches, we could see the similarities. Undersized warriors in height, yet unmovable in heart and girth. Danielle was the ultimate professional! She came to work every day. No matter what was going on outside those 94ft, she was focused! She took coaching and went hard. The sweet stroke was just the beginning, her quick feet allowed her to blow by defenders, her ability to tip the ball to herself made her an imposing rebounder. But her selflessness made her one of the best defenders in the Big 12. Rotating for a charge, steals off the hedge, stripping unsuspecting ball handlers all got her teammates and coaches up off their seats. “It’s not what we do, but how we do it was a rallying cry” for our defense. Danielle made sure she helped lead the way as we unleashed the GATA on our opponents.
Perhaps my favorite part of the night came as Danielle was overcome with emotion. As she began to thank her family, the tears poured harder. Her Aunt Mary got up in front of over 700 folks and extended a tissue to Danielle. Thus pausing the crying and an eruption of laughs broke across the audience led by Danielle shaking her head and proclaiming “that’s my Aunnnnntie”. We learned quickly, Danielle had a loving and supporting family. They were there for her! As coaches, we won them over when they saw we truly cared for their baby. They made almost all those long commutes from Kansas City, and when they couldn’t Auntie Mary was on her way from Houston. The Big 12 conference tournament was held in Kansas City Danielle’s first year. I mentioned her family crying tears of joy after her first game in the maroon and white. Well, they brought all of Kansas City to that tournament. They too left emotional. They got to watch Danielle and her fellow Kansas City Aggie teammates Tanisha Smith and Tyra White lead the way as the GATA rolled over Texas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma to bring yet another title to Aggieland.
Closing out her speech Danielle, saved her faith and teammates for last…
“Thank the Lord for giving me the talent, the love of the game, and the passion I have for it.”
Danielle went on to thank her teammates, reserving “the highest praise for them” as she joked she couldn’t have scored if they didn’t give her the ball. Danielle’s teammates would laugh at that too. Her point guard would laugh especially hard, remembering some of those early morning workouts, with then, strength and conditioning coach, Jen Jones. Colson wasn’t always a member of the DA fan club. You see conditioning was done as team, if Danielle didn’t make her time, well then nobody made their time. The toughness of our championship team was built in the weight room. Colson wasn’t the only one, but let’s just say our players didn’t trust Coach Harris or the rest of staff regarding Danielle early on. However, that’s where faith intertwines in the story.
Jen Jones, was our spiritual leader and led most of our fellowshipping along with Bill Johnston from FCA. We knew a higher power would have to descend upon that locker room to get this group on the same page, at least in conditioning. Otherwise they wanted Danielle, and her making them run twenty extra lines gone. The team came together, Jen and Bill did an excellent job leading our ministry. But I still believe God’s presence and them trusting Coach Harris, didn’t happen until God laid his hand upon Danielle’s shooting arm and led her to those 20+ points, I mentioned earlier against Duke. Let me tell y’all something, the buy in was immediate! Little Miss Colson volunteered to run extra lines with the sharp shooter. Catherine Snow, did extra treadmill time with Danielle, her roommate Skylar Collins, was throwing the hidden junk food out of their pantries. Everyone was doing their part to help their new teammate. While I exaggerate on some of this (not really), Danielle had found sisters for life. They fell in love with her from all I described, but they truly fell in love with her for her selfless nature. Danielle did all the extra work, because she didn’t want to let her sisters down.
In 2010 we lost to a really good Gonzaga team in the NCAA, led by now Oregon head coach Kelly Graves. There was emptiness, it wasn’t shock, because we respected our opponent. However, we knew the talent on our roster could match up to anyone else’s in the country. We took to a knee and thanked God for his protection over the course of the year. The look on our players’ faces in the locker room still pain me to this day. There wasn’t a long speech after that game. Danielle and her sisters, took that pain, along with their faith, and brought it back to Aggieland. We all got to witness their manifestation in 2011. National Champions!
You would think as a coach, 2011 was my proudest moment for Danielle. Well it wasn’t! Danielle went on to make the 2011 WNBA All Star team as a rookie, narrowly losing Rookie of the year out to Maya Moore. She signed a lucrative Nike endorsement and played overseas in the top Euro league. A small promise to Grandmom and Coach Blair, is what I’ll always remember. Danielle turned down a six figure offer from abroad to come back to Aggieland and finish her degree. The promise she made to those two was coming true.
My daughter was born almost nine months after the 2011 celebration had ended. She didn’t get to watch Danielle play as an Aggie. However, she got to witness the giving side we all fell in love with. Danielle studying and explaining her work at the kitchen table. She got to witness her dominate a young group of Ags, that soon learned why the banners hung. She begged to put her feet in the big recovery boots, Danielle put on after every practice. She got to wrestle, read, and ride bikes with Danielle. Lauryn got to meet Danielle as Mrs. Clause at a luncheon and even got to break a birthday piñata, with her hero right by her side! However, my favorite moment, was watching Danielle’s Mom, Tiffany cry as her baby fell into her arms as a graduate of Texas A&M.
Danielle’s career has continued to shine wrapping up her 6th straight year as a professional. Despite traveling the globe, Aggieland is always with her. Three words seem small when wrapping up a night like the 40th Annual Burgess Banquet honoring the Texas A&M Hall of Fame Class of 2017. But for an Aggie, her choice of words was perfect…Thanks and Gig’em