Lexington native Sekoe White is looking to earn his third basketball gold medal at this summer's Deaflympics in Sofia, Bulgaria. But White had to become a coach before he was sure he wanted to play again.
White took the job as head coach for the Mississippi School for the Deaf in January. It took one practice for him to realize he wanted to play this summer.
He wants to use himself as an example to inspire his players to chase the "impossible dream."
"I am not doing this for me. I am doing this for the future of young deaf kids," White said.
"They don't really see their potential," White said in an email. He has been deaf since he was 2 years old because of meningitis. He uses American Sign Language to communicate.
White, who will turn 27 in July, says it is an honor to represent his country again and to make the 12-man U.S. team, and that it is a rare opportunity.
Helping others is why White transformed his career from player to coach.
"I really feel that it is time for me to turn around ... and look at youth deaf kids who don't have this opportunity that I had in the basketball world," White said.
White's opportunities in basketball began when he played for the Kentucky School for the Deaf and Paul Laurence Dunbar High School. From there he played at Gallaudet University, a school in Washington, D.C., for deaf and hard of hearing students.
After his freshman season at Gallaudet, White was invited to try out for the U.S. Deaflympic Team by David Hamilton, a Kentucky School for the Deaf graduate and then-head coach.
"I had heard a lot about him when he was in high school so I invited him to try out," Hamilton, now USADB's international director, said through an interpreter.
White didn't originally make the team headed to Australia. Hamilton said he was a good player but did not have the experience.
But then some players dropped out because they could not raise the necessary funds.
"I took the opportunity," White said.
White was not a starter during the 2005 Deaflympics but he learned from the more experienced players. Hamilton said that White played an average of 15 to 20 minutes per game.
"I was playing with the veterans who were great mentors and gave me advice to become a better man," White said.
In the 2009 Deaflympics in Taiwan, White started every game and was second on the team in scoring. He also took on the role of passing along what he learned four years earlier.
"Two-thousand-nine was my highlight of life ... I led the team and gave the same advice I got from 2005 team," White said.
Hamilton said White was a key player in the 2009 Deaflympics. In the semifinal game against Greece, the U.S. was down by 16 points with four minutes to go. White made three three-point plays to bring the U.S. back. White also played well against favored Lithuania in the championship game. With the gold-medal victory, the U.S. has won gold at every Deaflympics since basketball was added in the 1950s.
White also started playing in the U.S. Deaf Basketball league after college. He is a two-time All-Star and scored the most points in the 2010 USADB tournament. This past season he was named the USADB MVP after helping his team to the USADB title. White hit a buzzer-beater from mid-court in overtime to lift the New Mexico Zia over the Showstoppers.
Although White is determined to be an inspiration for his players, he might not be able to make it to Sofia. White and the rest of the U.S. basketball players need to raise nearly $5,000 apiece.
"We're trying to keep our gold medal continuing but if our players keep having to back out because of financial reasons our chances of continuing are jeopardized," Hamilton said.
White is coming back to Lexington to try raise some of the money before he heads to the Maryland School for the Deaf for final preparations for the Games. The Chick-fil-A at Fayette Mall is sponsoring a Spirit Night for White on Saturday. A portion of the sales will go directly to White's fundraising efforts.
If he is able to raise the money, White and the rest of the U.S. Deaflympians will head to Bulgaria to compete from July 26 to Aug. 4. He says it will probably be his last Deaflympics.
"I feel that youth deaf kids need me more as a coach than me being a basketball player," White said.