When you've had bullets and bombs all around you, who's going to be intimidated by an opponent on a basketball court?
This is how Weatherford College freshman guard Ron Whitelow must look at the sport he loves and to which he has returned after serving in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan.
"It made me appreciate what we have in America. It's a totally different life," he said of his seven months serving in Afghanistan in 2014.
"You've got little children walking around starving. I'm talking four and five years old. Houses are like cardboard."
And there was the danger of death that was always nearby for himself and his fellow soldiers.
"You could hear the noises at night, but after a while you just have to block it out if you're ever going to sleep," Whitelow said. "Still, you're always on edge, and you don't sleep all that well."
Whitelow's closest call is one he will remember the rest of his life. Some Afghanis sent indirect fire that hit about five feet from him.
"I still think about that, and I always will," he said. "That was about as close as it gets without, well, you know."
But Whitelow said he and his troops did not have any trouble with the citizens of Afghanistan in general. Of course, they also had something to offer for their friendliness.
"The people gave us no problems. We worked getting intel in exchange for being able to come to America," he said.
Whitelow’s family has a long history of serving. His father served in the Navy, as did his two grandfathers. He also has a cousin who is currently serving in the Army in Italy.
Ron served in the Army from 2012 to 2016 after graduating from Olive Branch High School in Mississippi. He was released from military duty in April and knew exactly what he wanted to do first.
"When I got back I stayed as close to my family as possible," he said. "But I also wanted to play basketball."
And that brought him to Weatherford College.
"I started playing when I was six, and I've always loved it," he said. "Even though I went into the military right out of high school, while I was at Fort Hood they had a strong basketball presence. I had given it up, but the military actually rekindled my passion for basketball."
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Whitelow is a walk-on for Coyotes. He is confident he brings leadership to the program.
"The younger guys can look to me for anything, basketball or life," Whitelow said.
Whitelow said he is also grateful to Coyotes coach Mark Osina for giving him a second chance. Osina believes, as does Whitelow, that the life experience can make an impression on the other players.
"What this guy has been through and experienced is something everyone can learn from," Osina said. "It doesn't matter if it's on a basketball team or just life in general."
Osina said Whitelow is off to a good start. For example, in WC’s win over Howard College Tuesday night, Whitelow was 3-of-4 from beyond the three-point line and tied with a teammate for the most points in the game (16).
Whitelow said even while still in the military he was contacting coaches. On occasions he'd get leave and go to a showcase. It was through a military contact that he was led to Weatherford.
"A guy I knew in the military had played for Coach Osina," he said. "He told me what a great program he has and what a great guy he is.
"The day I got out of the military I came to try out and coach said he had a slot for me."
Whitelow said there is one thing he misses about his time in Afghanistan--the food.
"The food was amazing. We were eating four meals a day, Afghanistan and American," he said. "The bread was incredible.
"And if you don't take the food, the people consider it an insult, so we ate a lot."
Whitelow said he would like to be a basketball coach himself one day.
"I want to give back to youth, and as I said I have a lot to offer outside of basketball," he said.
As Whitelow's life moves forward, he can't help but look back. And he understands the importance of acting quickly and taking advantage of the moment. For example, had he waited to enlist, he would not be at Weatherford College right now, but back on the other side of the world.
"My unit went back to Afghanistan in 2016," he said. "I'm much more happy to be here, believe me."
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Photo caption #1: Whitelow and his dad, Larry Williams.
by Rick Mauch
Photo caption #2: Whitelow in his WC uniform.