Name: Clinton Jamar White (but in the pickleball world, I'm CJ) | Age: 35 | Home courts: The Courts at Piccadilly
How were you introduced to pickleball?
I was doing my normal routine of playing indoor volleyball one summer night and as I walked into the gym I noticed a friend of mine playing what looked like tennis met ping pong. He called me over and said they needed a fourth and asked if I had played pickleball before. I told him I felt like I had in high school with a wooden paddle but wasn't sure if I remembered anything. I was quickly taught the rules and began playing. I had so much fun from that point on I would show up two hours before playing volleyball to play pickleball. I was gifted my first paddle and from then on I was hooked.
What have your greatest challenges been on the path to upping your skill?
I would say just staying patient and remembering that there is so much strategy and skill to the game that can make or break you if you are looking to move up in skill level. Two people that live rent free in my head are Pro Jessie Irvine and Senior Pro Scott Crandall. Jessie is so skilled at breaking the game down and there have been things she has said to me that have helped me practice but also win big matches. Same with Scott, who helped me really develop a mindset in working on my third shot drop shot and making the shots I should make without thinking too much. It's easy to think "oh I am athletic and I play tennis, I'm just going to blow these people off the court." But that's not the case. I have had to really work on my decision making with shots (and I am still working on that). I have also had to work on my singles game which Daniel Roditi really helped me develop my game by helping me add shots to my repertoire and understand there's more to the game then hitting the ball hard. And now in both doubles and singles it's just about being consistent while doing all the right things to stay on the medal stand and preferably at the top spot of it!
Which TMPR paddle do you play with and why?
I play with the Ascend XT. I love it because of the power it allows me to display on the court and the control I have with it. I can say it has made me quite a force in the singles game. And definitely allows me the power to put away shots in doubles also. Plus the long handle really compliments my style of play by allowing me to play with a two handed backhand.
Do you have a racquet or paddle sport background? If so, how has that influenced your pickleball game?
I started playing tennis when I was 16 (kind of late I know) but I really learned to love the game and excelled at it quickly. I would say that tennis has influenced my desire to really make hitting a hard drive a part of my game. I love being up at the net. Especially when people try to lob me because tennis has really allowed me to have a great overhead smash. Not only that, but I love playing with a two handed backhand. I started playing pickleball with a one handed backhand due to having shorter handle but quickly learned that I wanted to try to play with two as the handles of paddles got longer. Which makes me even more thankful for my Ascend XT paddle and its long handle!
What do you like most about pickleball?
I like the social aspect of it. I can't tell you how many new amazing people I have met through Pickleball. Seeing the same great people at tournaments and meeting new people each time really makes me happy. It's great to hear "CJ" and to turn and just see a pickleball friend waving at you! The game itself is so fun but the people are what make it that way!
What is one of your fondest memories you’ve experienced in conjunction with pickleball?
It would definitely have to be winning Nationals in singles my first year playing. I have always loved going to Indian Wells Tennis Garden and watching tennis there. But to be on the courts playing pickleball was amazing especially at night. I remember winning my first match pretty easy and being so excited. I remember my second match after snapping my paddle and having a friend bring me another. I remember my third match and winning in the third game by hitting a left hand winner (i'm right handed by the way). I remember playing under the lights and the hard fought battle until ultimately I was a National Champion in a game I had picked up 9 months prior.
What advice would you give new players who are just learning the game?
First, learn the basics of the game and actually practice them during rec play. If you want to hit the ball hard do so, but do not neglect the dinking aspect of the game or learning how to transition from the baseline to the kitchen. Second, watch pickleball! Pick a couple pro players and watch them play. See how they move on the court, how patient they are, things they do that makes them successful and try to build skills that will allow you to emulate them as much as your skill level will allow. All these things are things that I do now. I love my power but have fallen more in love with dinking especially since power doesn't always work. There is nothing more satisfying than hitting a terrible third shot drop but being able to hit a 5th and a 7th shot and transitioning to the kitchen. I watch videos of Jay Devilliers and how he plays mixed doubles. I watch videos of Jessie Irvine and her footwork. I love to watch DJ Young hit an inside out forehand dink. But the most important bit of advice I can give is to have fun and keep playing the game! Pickleball has been a safe haven for me. Life has tossed a lot of tough situations my way but the game of pickleball and the community that it has brought has been so rewarding. I truthfully believe that its a game that can be competitive and still so much fun. So no matter how far up the skills ladder you go, never forget to have fun playing the game!