The apex for one Mountaineer.
Big names passed on 5’11 Valorie Whiteside in 1984, so she made a big name for herself instead at Appalachian State.
Coming out of Chapman High School in Ingram, South Carolina, Whiteside won a state championship in 1982 and was an all-state selection three years running. In the still early days of NCAA sponsorship of women’s athletics, she was looked at by a number of schools, but recruiting was far from what it is today.
Back in the mid-80s, Whiteside said there was very little communication other than scheduling visits.
“It was more or less, a coach called and asked if you wanted to come to their school and that was it,” she said recently in an article, contrasting modern-day recruiting.
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And some big-name coaches were interested. Andy Landers at Georgia had reportedly recruited her for a time but couldn’t find room for another big player, and Clemson University wanted to bring her in, if she spent a couple of years playing at the junior college level first.
At the same time, Whiteside’s high school coach tipped off old friend Linda Robinson about his superstar player. Robinson had just recently been named women’s basketball head coach at Appalachian State University, a program that had struggled for years before her hiring.
Robinson not only brought her in, but started her early on in her freshman campaign.
The term “freshman phenom” can feel overused. In recent years, we’ve seen players like Chennedy Carter and Kelsey Mitchell earn that moniker with outstanding first years with their teams; Valorie Whiteside was all that, and then some.
In the three years prior, the Appalachian State Mountaineers had won 14 games total. In the 1984-1985 season, Whiteside and Coach Robinson led them to two more wins and a 16-12 finish overall. They finished 5-5 in the Southern Conference, third in the league.
Whiteside led the team in both scoring and rebounding as a freshman. And that’s putting it mildly.
She put up 27.1 points per game and 15.5 rebounds on average. That is still the second-best scoring mark by a freshman. Not only is 15.5 rebounds the best ever for a freshman, it is in the top-20 among all players. She had 435 rebounds that season, third-best by a freshman behind Ida Johnson and a pretty well-known rebounder who goes by the name Courtney Paris.
She had her best rebounding game — and the best in the history of the Mountaineers — when she grabbed 26 boards in a game against Furman; that came on the heels of a game two days earlier where she sank a program-best 16 free throws.
As a freshman Whiteside was an All-Southern Conference selection. Nationally, she was named Appalachian State’s first All-American in either men’s or women’s basketball, and she was the American Women’s Sports Federation’s Co-Freshman of the Year, immediately making her mark in women’s basketball history.
Though Whiteside was considered undersized inside even then, her coach knew following that historic first season she had a special player on her roster.
“I would by far rather have Val at 5’11 than a lot of the 6’4 kids I’ve seen,” Robinson told reporters following her season honors.
The following year, the Mountaineers finished with the same record and struggled to make it past Chattanooga, led by coach Sharon Fanning — who you probably know from her national success as coach at Kentucky and Mississippi State.
That didn’t stop Whiteside from putting up incredible numbers. She had 48 points on 20 field goals made against Western Carolina on January 23, 1986, and both of those marks are still program records. She had 698 total points, which is still best for a Mountaineer sophomore and fourth-best all-time.
Then the program took the next step.
In Whiteside’s third year, she put up a program-best 776 points and 311 rebounds, which is still the most by a junior in school history. The Mountaineers upped their win total by 8, finishing 24-7 overall and 9-1 in the Southern Conference.
The conference regular season championship wasn’t the end, though. App State also went on to win their first conference tournament championship that year, with Whiteside earning Tournament MVP honors.
Unfortunately, the Southern Conference Tournament champions did not earn an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament at that time, so their season came to an end anyway, but there is no doubt the program’s reputation had shifted.
The following year was positive once again, with the Mountaineers finishing 24-4 overall and 8-2 in conference, tied for first in the conference. They rolled to another conference tournament championship and Tournament MVP honors for Whiteside to cap off her career.
That January, she snagged a program-record 13 steals, a number that is still eighth-best in NCAA Division I history, to add to the litany of career records in her name.
She left Appalachian State as a four-time All-Southern Conference selection, a three-time All-Southern Conference Tournament honoree, the Conference Tournament Player of the Year in 1987 and both regular season and Conference Tournament Player of the Year in 1988. Nationally, she was named an All-American three times.
That’s enough to be considered a legend, but to be absolutely sure, the name “Whiteside” is all over both the Appalachian State and NCAA record books.
She finished with 2,944 points, averaging 25.4 per game over her 1,153 field goals and 638 free throws made. Add on to that 1,369 rebounds total and 11.8 per game. Each of those is a program record.
All four of her years are the best scoring seasons in school history, comprised of three 40-point games and five more with at least 34 points. She has four of the top seven rebounding seasons in Mountaineer history, built off of five games with 20 or more rebounds.
Now on to the NCAA record books. Her 1,173 free throws attempted is still a Division I record entering the 2018-2019 season, and she is ninth-best on the list of players who had 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds.
Her 2,944 career points is 15th on the NCAA’s all-time scoring list, and impressive as it is on its own, consider that she played only 116 games. In the years of shorter seasons and a conference with no automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament, she did not have the opportunity to play as often as more recent players.
To take nothing away from the all-time leading scorer, it’s worth taking a moment to project out Whiteside’s scoring numbers for comparison. Kelsey Plum played 139 games and finished with 3,527 points. Eerily enough, stretching Whiteside’s scoring average out to 139 games would have given her 3,527 points too.
That’s not to say one player’s performance was better or worse than the other; that is only to say that Whiteside’s scoring was on an elite level good enough to stand even today.
For the impact she made on both the school and conference, Whiteside was enshrined in the Appalachian State Athletics Hall of Fame in 2003 and the Southern Conference Hall of Fame in 2009.
She went on to a successful professional career overseas in Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, and Italy before returning home to coach at the high school and amateur national level.
Program-changers don’t come around every year. Appalachian State went on to national success in the ’90s, including four NCAA Tournament appearances, and those teams have Whiteside to thank at least in part for elevating the talent and recruiting ability of the Mountaineers.
And even more phenomenal is that her name was written as the turning point for the program as just a freshman. Very few can say that.