Together again: Irby, McDuffie, White reunite at Pitt Community College
By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on April 7, 2012 11:05 PM
Devonte White, Demetrio Irby and Keovanta McDuffie -- at first glance -- appear to be three young men bound together by a love for the game of basketball.
Upon further observation, the three former Goldsboro High School standouts are connected by a friendship forged through the trials of high school basketball, the challenges of college life and the times when all they had was each other.
White, Irby and McDuffie each shined on the basketball court during their time in a Cougars' uniform and are continuing their careers together as teammates at Pitt Community College.
McDuffie, the 2007-08 News-Argus All-Area Player of the Year, suffered a torn ACL in his left knee early in his senior season at Goldsboro. Determined to prove he is still capable of being the scorer who averaged 17 points and seven rebounds a game before his injury, McDuffie worked relentlessly in the gym this past summer. The tireless dedication paid off as he averaged 18 points and eight rebounds this season in helping the Bulldogs to a 19-11 record and a berth in the Region X tournament semifinals.
"During the summer I worked out four times a week," McDuffie said. "I worked on my conditioning and my defense, and I feel so accomplished because I feel like I got back to where I was as a player in high school."
Irby and White were members of the Goldsboro team that reached the N.C. High School Athletic Association 1-A state championship game in 2010. They each persevered through multiple coaching changes during their high school careers and learned to lean on one another when trusting those around them suddenly seemed difficult.
Irby briefly spent time at Pfeiffer University before the engineering program that initially attracted him to the school was dropped. His move to Pitt proved to be beneficial as he transitioned from shooting guard to point guard early in the season when White went down with an MCL injury.
The Bulldogs endured a five-game losing streak in November as White and McDuffie were both sidelined. Despite initially struggling in his switch to point guard, the adversity Irby and his teammates experienced during their losing streak paid off later in the season.
"You learn a lot from losses," PCC head coach Darrick Mullins said. "During the losses you find out what type of character your team has. We stuck together and we committed to each other, and later in the season we saw things go in our favor."
Finally healthy and with some all-important team chemistry, Pitt reeled off wins in 13 of its final 16 regular-season games, including a win over regionally-ranked Louisburg College. White blossomed into a well-rounded point guard as the season went along and grew to understand the importance of involving all of his teammates in the offense. He ranked 19th nationally among Division II junior college players with more than six assists per game, while Irby averaged 10 points and close to six assists per contest.
"The basketball in college is a lot more advanced," Irby said. "When I first became the point guard when Devonte went down, I felt like I had a lot of weight on my shoulders and that I was the leader of the team. Once we got healthy and we came together as a team we really took off."
The glue that held Pitt together during the ups and downs of the season was the trust the Bulldogs built in Mullins. White, Irby and McDuffie wrestled with trust during their time at Goldsboro as they watched multiple head coaches depart for other schools. They often questioned the course of their respective basketball futures and what continued to cause men they had grown to trust to leave them without a coach.
Mullins' concern for his players' lives off the court and his willingness to push them to reach their full potential led to a trust that can be difficult to earn.
"Coach Mullins really cares about us off the court," White said. "I trust him like I trust coach (Patrick) Reynell at Goldsboro. He stays on us about becoming better players and about taking care of things in the classroom. We know we can trust what he says."
Once unsure where their futures would lead, three former high school teammates have grown stronger through adversity, matured through experience and deepened their passion for the game that has bound them together through it all.