But Reginald, too, has a little bit of fullback in him. A few weeks later he woke his daughter at 6 a.m. on a Saturday and took her to Talley's outdoor courts, where he put her through drills—shooting drills, dribbling drills, rebounding drills, passing drills, agility drills, conditioning drills. "She caught on quickly," he says. "Valeria has always had an intensity for regimentation and practice." And when boys began showing up at the courts hours later, Reginald told Val to get herself included in their pickup games. "I would have to go up to these guys and ask if I could play, with my father standing there watching," Whiting says. "They didn't know what to make of me at first, but eventually I got to play."
The next day she got the same wake-up call from her father and went through the same routine, as she did nearly every Saturday and Sunday for months thereafter. She remembers thinking her father had become a madman, but he says that on those rare weekend days when he didn't wake her up, "She would come looking for me, wanting to know why."
Whiting improved steadily, so much so that she began to embarrass the boys who played against her. Some of them refused to try their best, letting her score easily so it would appear that she was succeeding only because they weren't taking her seriously. Sometimes the boys on her own team would pass her the ball only as a last resort. Once, after a particularly good move, she heard a boy yell, "She's not a girl, she's a man." Whiting knew it wasn't meant as a compliment, but her only response was to keep playing. "You don't let that kind of thing hold you back," she says. "You let it push you forward."
That sounds like something she might have heard from Reginald. Although she draws support from her mother, Claudette, and her younger sister, Kristina, there is something special between father and daughter.
Almost everyone calls her Val, but to her father she is Valeria, named after his sister. "Too pretty a name to shorten," he says. Since instituting those 6 a.m. sessions on the school courts, he has never really stopped coaching her. In high school, where she led Ursuline Academy to four straight state championships, Whiting would call her father a few hours before a game, sometimes for advice, sometimes just to hear his voice. Often he would decide to leave work—he owns a marketing research firm—to meet with her and give her advice for that night's game.
Even today, father and daughter talk by phone, coast to coast, almost every day. What could there be to say? "He always finds something." she says. "He's my toughest critic. Sometimes when I think I've had a pretty good game, he'll have something to criticize, and I'll say. 'Dad, come on." But he'll tell me when I've done well, too, and when he does, it means a lot."
VanDerveer says Reginald is Val's "ace in the hole," because he helps her handle the pressures of being the top player in the country. Still, she thrives on the challenges of that role. Whiting's best performances often come against the best competition, such as the 28-point, 12-rebound effort she put together last season in the Cardinal's victory over NCAA tournament favorite Virginia in the semifinals at Los Angeles Arena. When Stanford played in an off-season tournament in France in August and September, her best game was against Kiev, the Ukrainian team that has to be considered as good as any U.S. college team. Stanford lost by 27 points to Kiev early in the tournament but won the championship game against Challes, a French team, 96-85 behind Whiting's 25 points.
"I'm not sure Val knows how good she really is," says Stanford point guard Molly Goodenbour. And maybe Whiting is half afraid of being too good. After a three-game stretch last year in which she scored 33 points against California and 35 each against USC and UCLA, she went to VanDerveer to ask if she was shooting too much. "The one thing I've never wanted is to bethought of as a gunner," she says.
Whiting's plan is to win another championship, then play professionally in Europe or Japan for a few years, just long enough to earn the money to pay for medical school, I know that the only sure thing about most plans is they don't work out as planned," she says. "Sometimes I wonder if it's all really going to happen. Questions start going through my head. Am I smart enough? Do I really want to be a doctor? The only thing that's easy is to remember that nothing comes easily." And even as she says it, the future Dr. Valeria Whiting gives the impression that she wouldn't have it any other way.