Kansas City’s Tyra White and Taber Spani are great role models, both on and off the basketball court
by Ann Butenas
Kansas City is no stranger to producing talented athletes of amazing grace, athletic prowess, and stunning humility. With the madness of March in full swing, SHE KC is excited to give some added insight into two of this town’s most impressive leaders on the college basketball scene today: Tyra White and Taber Spani. Their names alone speak volumes. Their accomplishments tell even more.
Tyra White, 22, is a senior majoring in agricultural leadership and development at Texas A&M. This native Kansas Citian graduated from Hickman Mills High School where she was a star athlete. She was introduced to basketball at the tender age of seven, courtesy of her three older brothers who loved to play the game.
Recognizing her natural talent, Tyra joined an AAU team in sixth grade and subsequently played on the eighth grade team for Irvin Middle School. Although she admits to being short as a kid, by the time she hit ninth grade, her then six foot presence was obvious and her talent for the game did not go unnoticed by others.
“I was sitting in the library one day when I was a freshman,” Tyra recalled. “The basketball coach asked me to try out for the team and I did, making the varsity team that year. I was actually quite surprised by that.”
Fortunately, her coach’s suggestion resulted in an amazing high school career for Tyra and she graduated on a high-note by going to state with her team.
Although she had her pick of universities to attend, Tyra felt led to play for Texas A&M.
“I saw it as a new and different experience for me, away from home and an opportunity to grow,” she noted.
When asked how the high school experience differs from the collegiate one, an air of seasoned maturity sweeps over her.
“Every day, you have to play against those who are better than you,” she said. “It has definitely allowed me to improve my game and requires me to push myself more and more every day.”
While Tyra’s list of accomplishments could fill a record book, just taking a peek at a few of the highlights is a very humbling experience for the rest of us.
Upon graduating from high school, she was one of the top 20 recruits in the nation. During her senior year, she averaged 18.5 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, three steals, and three blocks per game. She was honored as Metro Player of the Year as a junior and was a four-time all-state and all-conference selection.
Additionally, Tyra was named a McDonald’s High School All-American and the Missouri Gatorade Player of the Year as a senior. She was rated the number 17 overall prospect in the country by HoopGurlz.com and the fourth-best shooting guard by the All-Star Girls Basketball Report. Not surprisingly, this determined young lady also maintained an impeccable academic record as an honor roll student.
After suffering a season-ending knee injury in the first game of her freshman year at A&M, Tyra bounced back to play at an extremely high level. She was a part of the Big 12 All-Tournament Team in 2010 and in 2011 as well as All-Big 12 First Team in 2011 and was named 2011 State Farm All-American Honorable Mention. That same year, she was on the Women’s Final Four All-Tournament Team and led Texas A&M, along with fellow Kansas Citian Danielle Adams, to the 2011 NCAA national championship.
Red-shirted her freshman year at A&M, Tyra has proven her worth on the court these past three years and admittedly is somewhat sad that her college career is drawing to a close.
“This has meant a lot to me,” she reflected. “Playing in the Big 12 in Kansas City for the last time will be somewhat emotional for me.”
Assistant coach Johnnie Harris cannot help but beam with pride as she comments on Tyra.
“She has such a great personality,” she said. “She is reserved and doesn’t always say a lot, but when she has something to say, you know it is important and you should listen. That is why we call her the Silent Assassin. She gets the job done and approaches it like a business. She comes to work every day and handles herself like a true professional, setting a solid example of leadership for the rest of the team. She has embraced the A&M family and they have embraced her just as much.”
With over 50,000 students on campus, that’s a lot of respect earned, and well-deserved, too.
When looking towards the future, Tyra appreciates not only what the game has done for her, but also what disciplining herself to get a college degree has done for her. While she may have initially gone to college to play basketball, she now sees that her ability to play so well afforded her the opportunity to go to school so that she could get that degree.
Tyra is setting her sights on playing in the WNBA and is also anticipating using her skills in journalism to perhaps become a sports writer.
And in her free time, should she decide to engage in a pick-up game against her brothers, she feels pretty confident that when playing one against three, she’d win!
Taber Spani from Lee’s Summit, Missouri, is yet another star athlete who makes Kansas City proud. The name Spani should ring a bell for this community. Her dad, Gary Spani, was a linebacker with the Kansas City Chiefs for 10 years and still holds the record as the all-time leading tackler. Her four sisters and various members of her extended family have all carried on the family name in some way, shape, or form through a variety of sporting endeavors. While gifted athleticism runs in the family, a passion for serving others is the true calling.
While we could go on and on about her accomplishments and how (to name just a few!) she was a 2009 McDonald’s and WBCA High School All-Star American as well as the Gatorade Kansas Player of the Year or even that she earned the 2008 Pete Maravich Award as the top homeschooled athlete in the nation and finished her high school career ranked seventh all-time in the National High School Sports Record Book in points (4,113), Taber seems unimpressed by those accomplishments.
Even when we throw in the fact that she became the 13th University of Tennessee Lady Volunteer to start her first game at Rocky Top and the 58th freshman to start during her rookie year, playing 16 out of 33 games as a freshman and tallying averages of 5.8 points per game and recording four double-digit scoring games, Taber embraces humility. You can remind her that she was an academic standout and was named to the Capitol One Academic All-District Second Team for District 4 and to the SEC All-Academic Team in her sophomore year, and she still remains unfazed. You see, it’s never been about what she has received. It’s always been about what she can give.
Despite all of her accomplishments, what Taber prefers to recognize and honor is her commitment to her faith and her desire to continually serve others, on or off the court. Her steadfast commitment to who she is, to her family, and to God is highly evident in her discourse and in her actions. A true leader, she is a role model for young girls rising through the ranks and desiring to bring their athleticism to college sports while still focusing on using their other gifts to become leaders and women of influence in this world.
This 21-year-old college junior was born on Super Bowl Sunday and credits that debut with her passion for football and sports in general. The second of five girls, Taber was homeschooled and competed in sports through Metro Academy, playing against teams from both public and private schools while maintaining impressive straight A’s throughout her high school career.
Taber grew up on soccer and basketball, well-versed in both disciplines, but knew by age 10 that she would have to choose one over the other. Guess which sport won out? The 6-1 starlet has been gracing the courts ever since.
Although she was recruited by several schools when it came time to make the college decision, Taber instantly knew that the University of Tennessee had her at hello.
“I fell in love with the place as soon as I got here for a visit,” she recalled. “I saw it as an opportunity to compete for champions.”
While Taber undeniably loves competing on the court, this ambitious guard instinctively sees the basketball arena as a platform by which to influence others, most specifically younger girls who seek positive role models.
“If I can positively affect someone’s life by virtue of my actions, then that means a lot to me,” she said.
In her third year with the Lady Volun-teers, Taber was honored and named a team captain. She takes this role very seriously.
“I try to bring a leadership aspect to the team,” she noted. “I enjoy motivating our team, which I believe is the most talented team in the nation.”
When Taber is not busy tending to her studies as a communications major, maintaining an impressive 3.91 GPA, she enjoys getting out in the community and speaking to numerous high school and church groups, impacting lives and making a difference through her testimony of faith and her desire to motivate.
Taber is truly a reflection of all the good things a person portrays in life. Just ask Head Coach Pat Summitt.
“The coaching staff and her teammates respect Taber’s work ethic. She is a great teammate and is a source of energy to her fellow Lady Volunteers. Taber started out this season in tremendous shape and took a place as a leading scorer for our team, particularly with her three-point shooting. Unfortunately, she suffered an injury setback, but is slowly returning to the form we saw at the start of the season. She will play a large role in our post-season success.”
When she receives her degree in another year, Taber aspires to do missions work overseas, incorporating the game of basketball into the equation, combining her love of the game and her passion for missions work to touch the lives of others. We’re pretty confident that’s one shot in life she’ll successfully score.
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