Photos by J. Alan Paul Photography and Bob Nelson
There are 9,000 miles between North Dakota State University and where sophomore Marena Whittle and freshman Bree Whatman call home. Victoria, Australia and North Dakota bear many differences; however, basketball translates universally for the two Australians who found a new home on the NDSU women’s basketball team.
The Journey to Fargo
For Whatman, playing basketball in America has always been the goal. “Since I was 12 years old, I’ve always wanted to come here,” Whatman said in her thick Australian accent.
Assistant Coach Tom Goehle discovered Whatman and Whittle after traveling to Australia. The school year was fast approaching, but head coach Carolyn DeHoff and Goehle worked hard to recruit Whittle. “Luckily, we were able to get her through admissions and have her to even want to come over here,” DeHoff said. “Bree was the same thing. (Goehle) knew of her play, and I saw her off of film.”
After Skype sessions and staying in touch digitally with Goehle, both girls agreed to make the transition to the United States. “It’s been great for all of us, and for the other players,” DeHoff said, “It’s been really easy with the things we have learned from them and the things they have learned from us.”
Teammates By Chance, Family By Choice
Whittle and Whatman have developed a familial-type relationship since coming to Fargo, after previously knowing each other for about four or five years back in Australia. The Aussies “versed” each other growing up and played together on the same state team. “Marena calls Bree her little sister, and certainly they’re two different kids and they’re good for each other because they bring a different personality with one another,” DeHoff said.
Sophomore Whittle and freshman Whatman consider each other their provisional family while in the United States.
“She’s crazy. She’s someone that can always make you laugh. Having her here is so good being so far away from home,” Whatman said of Whittle. “She’s kind of like my second family now, just having that connection to home. She always helps me out when I need it.”
Before Whatman came to Fargo, Whittle already embraced a mentoring role to Whatman. “Prepping her to come over I would always tell her, ‘If you ever need anything or if you’re worried and you need anyone to talk to, I’m here,’” Whittle said. “She’s really coming into her own here.”
The Truth About Kangaroos
In North Dakota, accidentally hitting a deer with a car can be a great concern for travelers. Whatman experienced something a bit different in Australia. “We hit (a kangaroo) with my dad’s car. He was just driving, and it kind of hopped out – then bam!” Whatman said. “I wasn’t driving, I was in the back. It hopped away. They are really strong.”
When Whittle drives to her “auntie’s” house in the country, sometimes hundreds of kangaroos can be seen in her backyard. “We’d say, ‘Oh let’s go chase them!’ And she’d say, ‘No, they’d definitely kill you.’ You don’t want to get near the angry ones, but you can feed them and they’ll come to you and take your food if they’re used to you. So that’s probably my only story, almost feeding kangaroos.”
Contrary to popular stereotypes, however, kangaroos are not just roaming around Australia. “I don’t ride a kangaroo to school,” Whatman said.
Both Whittle and Whatman imprinted immediate impact upon the women’s basketball team. Both girls will continue to call NDSU home for the next few years, only traveling the 9,000 miles to Australia for visits and summer break. “We’ll probably hang out (in Australia) for workouts and shootings and stuff,” Whittle said with a smile. “I’m not sure if she’ll go back to her home team though, and I’ll go back to my team and we’ll turn back into enemies for a little bit. We’ll be alright though, we’re pretty cool.”
Both Aussies grew up in suburbs of Melbourne, Victoria. Whittle hails from Vermont South, Victoria, a town of 11,416 people and Whatman from Beaconsfield, Victoria, a town of 6,412.
Differences on the court
When substituting in Australia you check in and then go back to sit down on the bench instead of waiting.
- “Yeah, the first time I tried to sub in, I walked back and everyone is yelling at me to go sit back down,” Whatman said. “It’s weird; I’m still adjusting to that. I still need to keep reminding myself to go sit down there.”
If you are throwing the ball in from the sideline in Australia, you can’t throw it back across the half court line.
- “Being a point guard, it’s been weird knowing that I can run down there without getting a cross-court violation,” said Whatman
In Australia, they play quarters instead of halves.
- “Everything is a lot faster and trying to get used to playing for longer,” said Whittle.
- “Everything is still the same, just doing it a different way,” Whatman said.