David Michaels: The Ongoing Journey From Division III To The NBA

07.09.12 7 years ago
When the discussion turns to David Michaels during his first two college years, the young man himself doesn’t hold back during this brief flashback.

“Average,” Michaels deadpans. “I didn’t see basketball as an outlet for me as a profession so all I was thinking was that, ‘hey, I made the team.’ I was content with just having my name on the roster. I was just an average person in general. I underachieved to the highest level.”

Through a process of true internal transformation, Michaels completed his career at Whitman College at a level no one could have imagined.

“You would have never thought it a year and a half ago,” Whitman coach Eric Bridgeland says. “Never.”

Now he finds himself completely fixated on his hoop dreams. He’s even caught the eye of two NBA clubs. You’re probably wondering who David Michaels is and who he played for. Michaels, a 6-7 small-forward, was one of the nation’s top division III players this past season for Whitman, a private liberal arts college in Walla Walla, Washington. The most notable Whitman athlete may be Olympic skier Holly Brooks.

Those undrafted rookies from the NBA Draft with big time college hoops pedigrees will get the chance to prove the draft boards wrong with summer league invites. Then there is Michaels. He understands the situation. The odds are against him. In recent years Devean George (Augsburg) is the flag bearer for league hopefuls in Division III. George was the 23rd pick in the 1999 draft by the Lakers, winning a trio of rings. Working out in his hometown of Las Vegas at Impact Basketball with the talents of Dion Waiters, Michael Snaer and Ashton Gibbs, Michaels can see the goal, yet how much work needs to be put it in.

“His work ethic is insane,” Bridgeland says. “He’s obsessed. He’s eating right, he’s lifting. He doesn’t lift to get through a work out…he lifts to dominate the workout. There’s a big difference there. He gets up at 6 a.m. and is on a treadmill for a half an hour before he does anything. I don’t think it’s any question that he’ll be on an NBA roster two to four years from now.”

The roots of Michaels’ turnaround trace back to December of his junior year. It was Christmas time and the team was getting ready to go their separate ways for the break. Bridgeland gave his men a speech on staying committed throughout their free time, imploring them to get in the gym, sharpen their skills and stay in shape, more specifically running eight miles.

Someone needed to hear it more than others.

“In three semesters he was going to be a man and he had to provide for himself,” says Bridgeland. “I truly felt like we hadn’t changed him or gotten him ready for how he needs to be once he graduates.”

For some reason, Michaels’ “average” ways were no more. He ran the first six miles on his own. His work during a tournament in Arizona served as a launching pad for a renewed outlook on life.

“I knew that I didn’t finish my eight miles,” Michaels recalls. “Knowing coach Bridgeland and his mentality, I got nervous that he might find out that I didn’t run my extra miles. So that next morning for some reason, I don’t really know what happened, but I woke up the next morning at about 5 a.m. wide awake. Just went into the fitness center that they had in the hotel, jumped on the treadmill and ran about two and a half… three miles.”

After a successful tourney run, Michaels decided he wanted more. He would get in the gym every day at six in the morning to build his skill, strength and conditioning. On and off the court there was a desire and purpose in his work. That carried over into the summer months working with assistant coach Stephen Garnett four hours a day, completing his days playing pickup ball at the local YMCA.

Michaels solidified one of the best seasons in Whitman history as a senior, averaging 20 points and 6 rebounds while also leading the way in steals and blocks. What was more impressive was he shot less than 11 times per outing, shooting 55 percent from the field. He reached the 30 or more point plateau four times. During a game against George Fox, he put on a showcase of 22 straight points en route to a career high 40. It was a steady climb from his 5.4 point average as a freshman.

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