Whitman ‘living the dream’ in London

Former MIL player now on English college, pro teams


As he spoke on the telephone from London, John Kahoohanohano Whitman marveled at the journey he has taken.

After a youth spent in foster care on Maui, Whitman is now a 6-foot-1, 28-year-old standout all-around player for the University of East London volleyball team, returning to a sport he had all but abandoned until his senior year of high school, and is set to start work on a second master’s degree in September.

“I’m just a nobody from Maui,” Whitman said.

“And I’m over here living the dream.”

Whitman spent his first three years of high school at Baldwin, then went to King Kekaulike in the fall of 2005.

The transfer made him ineligible for football as a senior, so he opted for volleyball.

That time on the Pukalani campus — specifically in a class taught by Rich Carosso — also jump-started Whitman’s determination to go beyond the Valley Isle.

“He basically threw a dart on Maui on a map and said, ‘You have to imagine this is your whole life and there’s a bigger life outside of you in the world,’ “ Whitman said. “So, I’ve always wanted to see that. I feel a sense of pride that I was able to make it happen. It is crazy given my childhood, given my hurdles and options and my journey, but at the end of the day I wouldn’t trade it for the world because it’s such an awesome roller coaster to get on, really.”

Whitman went by John Kahoohanohano as he grew up bouncing around the foster-care system. He landed with the Sevilla family in Central Maui while in high school, giving him some stability, then was adopted by the Whitman family of San Diego after his 18th birthday.

“I was all over the place from the time I was 12 years old,” he said. “I lived everywhere probably except Hana.”

Whitman played multiple sports for Baldwin, though he was cut from the volleyball team before returning to the game as a senior — a decision he said was helped by watching Maui High graduate Dio Dante play for Hawaii.

“When I started playing volleyball it was just pure love,” he said. “I said to myself, ‘I have opportunities.’ I went to a couple college fairs on the Kamehameha (Maui) campus and I just said to myself, ‘I want a better life, I want a better opportunity.’

“Thankfully things worked out where I ended up getting adopted from a wonderful family in California.”

Whitman also plays for the London Lynx in two different professional leagues. All told, he competes in 40-50 matches for his three teams in seasons that run from September to April.

Whitman played junior college volleyball at San Diego Mesa College before transferring to Thiel College, an NCAA Division III school in Greenville, Pa.

After earning his bachelor’s in criminal justice and sociology, he played in adult leagues around the United States before being recruited in California by an English coach who offered the chance to earn a master’s on scholarship in London.

“I think it’s a golden opportunity that most people don’t even know about, the fact that they can go to school here in the U.K., not use up any eligibility or anything like that, see higher education and still play at a high level. It’s not just volleyball.”

Whitman will have his master’s in international business management in two months, and plans to return to the University of East London in September to get a degree in sports management. He has already been offered another one-year contract with the Lynx and his ultimate goal is to work in a university setting, either as a coach or in admissions.

Keola Paredes, a 2016 Kamehameha Maui graduate, plays for the University of East London soccer team, and Whitman has reached out to former King Kekaulike volleyball players C.J. Rilveria and John Eddins about possibly joining him on the London volleyball courts.

“It is crazy, I graduated from King K, small high school in Hawaii, I grew up in the Haiku area,” Whitman said. “I’m looking across the river right now at Canary Wharf and I’m thinking to myself, ‘God bless.’ “

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.