By Mason Nesbitt
For The Signal
Darryl McDowell-White’s first game back was a full display of what The Master’s University senior is capable of and just how much fun had been missing inside the MacArthur Center this season while he recovered from an injury.
The Australia native bounced a pinpoint pass between his legs. He lofted another pass toward the rim for an alley-oop dunk. He scampered around the perimeter and flung three-point shots that plunged through the net.
There is a showmanship in the way McDowell-White plays that keeps fans on the edge of their seats and that traces its roots to another sport and to his famous father who played it.
Darryl White, McDowell-White’s dad, was once a star in the Australian Football League, where teams of 18 players attempt to kick a ball through goal posts on either end of an oval-shaped field. The sport holds a similar level of popularity in Australia as the NFL does in America. And each game, in front of tens of thousands of fans, White played with a high-energy, dramatic flair recognizable to anyone who has seen McDowell-White suit up for No. 7-ranked Master’s, which beat No. 4 Westmont, 70-69, on Saturday. McDowell-White scored the game-winning layup with 1.6 seconds remaining.
“My dad would be one of his team’s key defenders, and he’d be so disciplined and lock his man up,” says McDowell-White, who’s averaging a career-best 15.2 points after missing the season’s first two games with an injury. “But as soon as he won possession and the ball was in his hands, the crowd would almost gasp every time. They had no idea what he was going to do, and he would always stun them, whether he would fake a pass or do a no-look kick. I definitely get that from him.”
To be clear, White, a member of the AFL’s Indigenous Team of the Century, cannot solely be credited with McDowell-White’s exuberant, fast-paced style of play.
White loved the 1980s “Showtime” Lakers, and raising his family in Brisbane, Australia, he’d show McDowell-White VHS tapes of Magic Johnson and Chicago Bulls-great Michael Jordan. McDowell-White soaked up the NBA stars’ creativity, and he soon fell in love with the game.
After trying numerous sports — swimming, tennis, volleyball, football, rugby — basketball took priority because of how varied practices could be, even when McDowell-White was alone.
“There are days when you can come in and you can practice shooting and finishing,” he says, “and other days you can do ball-handling or you can practice dunking. There are so many more layers to it in basketball.”
Aspects of the three years he spent playing Australian football in his early teens have carried over to the hardwood, especially on defense.
“For football, it’s a massive field and you have to lock that one person down for the entire field,” McDowell-White says. “In basketball, it’s a lot smaller and you have the one-on-one there. So I think defensively being able to lock down in football attributed to my success in basketball.”
He also learned to think on his feet in a sport where players can pass only by kicking the ball or punching it off their palm. Play goes on mostly uninterrupted. “There are no plays in Australian football, there’s no anything,” McDowell-White says. “You’re improvising the whole time.”
White didn’t have an issue with his son’s decision to pursue basketball; after all, the sport had been White’s first love. But when the Brisbane Bears (now called the Lions) offered White a contract out of high school in 1992, he couldn’t turn it down.
“Coming from where he came from, once you see a check that big, you go with it,” McDowell-White says.
White played for Brisbane from 1992 to 2005, appearing in 268 games and amassing 165 goals. He helped the team win the Grand Final (the Australian Football League’s Super Bowl) three straight seasons from 2001 to 2003.
McDowell-White, not yet 10 years old at the time, says his most vivid memories of the championships don’t involve the actual games.
Instead, he remembers his dad bringing him into the team’s training facility and letting him kick the egg-shaped ball around. He recalls that in the immediate aftermath of one victory, as the players celebrated, his dad beelined toward his family.
“He came straight to my mom (Bianca) and gave her the biggest hug,” McDowell-White says, “and I remember him telling her, ‘I love you.’”
McDowell-White’s classmates always knew White simply as McDowell-White’s father — except when a new kid arrived. “They would freak out on who my dad was,” McDowell-White says.
To McDowell-White, his dad was a friend and role model, almost like “another brother.”
It comes as little surprise then that McDowell-White fashioned his free-flowing, dynamic style of play in basketball after his father’s manner on the pitch. The Brisbane Lions’ website describes White as a “genius utility” who provided the club with “countless moments of freakish athleticism and sheer exhilaration.” In other words: He was constant fun.
Similarly, when McDowell-White gets going, there’s no telling how a fast break might end: in a dunk, with a behind-the-back pass, with a pull-up three.
“His speed is like nothing I’ve seen before,” Master’s center Tim Soares says of McDowell-White.
Says head coach Kelvin Starr, also an Australia native, “His motor does not stop, and he’s good for multiple highlight plays every time he steps on the floor.”
White sees similarities between the way he approached competition and the way McDowell-White does.
“He’s quick, tough, and he has a good IQ and feel for the game,” White says. “He has a great vertical, and he’s a selfless player.” White added that, like himself, his son appreciates his team’s fans because that’s the “real heartbeat of sport.”
McDowell-White certainly aims to entertain. He describes his chase-down blocks, improbable offensive rebounds and daring passes as “calculated chaos.”
“I try to be electrifying,” McDowell-White says. “But at the same time, I try to be poised. So it’s a hard balance to find.”
While McDowell-White’s physical skills might have led to a professional career in Australia (in football or basketball), his parents always instilled in their eight children the importance of education.
“I was the first person to graduate high school in my immediate family,” McDowell-White says. “Once high school was done, there was almost no question I was going to use the game of basketball to get college paid for.”
Recruited by Fresno State, McDowell-White came to the U.S. in 2016. He says he learned a lot on and off the court in his one season in central California, but ultimately he wasn’t a perfect fit for the Bulldogs.
“The coaches there loved my style,” he says, “but it wasn’t the best fit for how they wanted to play because I like to freelance a little, and they were very structured.”
At Master’s, McDowell-White found the freedom he desired on offense, and he discovered a campus culture that encouraged his soul.
“When I walked around campus, everyone was saying hello, everyone had positive energy,” McDowell-White says, “… You could tell it was because Christ was the center of their life.”
White is proud of his son’s accomplishments at Master’s, where McDowell-White has helped TMU win three straight Golden State Athletic Conference tournament titles. After leading McDowell-White around Melbourne Cricket Ground stadium following the 2001 Grand Final, White now watches Master’s games on the internet. He also tunes in online to watch daughter, Jessica, a sophomore on the Eastern Washington University women’s basketball team; and son, William, a member of the Houston Rockets G League squad.
“It’s amazing. With technology these days, we are able to watch three of our kids playing in the USA — at some ridiculous times,” White says of the 18-hour time difference between Brisbane and Los Angeles. “But it’s all worth it.”
For more information on Master’s Athletics, visit GoMustangs.com.