NEWARK, NJ - When the ball mistakenly skipped off of Kris Dunn’s foot while he was dribbling early in the men's basketball game between Providence and Seton Hall, it somehow bounced right to Isaiah Whitehead, who scooped it up, and raced down the court for a reverse layup. Whitehead was fouled in the process and converted a three-point play.
Fate would have it that the ball landed in the hands of Whitehead. Dunn and Whitehead were both McDonald’s All-Americans out of high school and considered to be among the top guards in the country in their respective classes.
Dunn, a junior at Providence College, is considered by basketball scouts to be the best NBA-ready point guard in college today. Whitehead, a sophomore at Seton Hall University, had an injury-riddled freshman season that limited his effectiveness. However, this season he has blossomed into one of the most dynamic players in the Big East, leading Seton Hall to its best record in almost 15 years. Against Providence in the late February game, Whitehead scored 26 points and had 9 assists with a mesmerizing array of acrobatic shots and spectacular passes.
“It’s just basketball instincts,” said Whitehead. “I really can’t tell you what I was thinking, I was just playing.”
The much anticipated match-up between Dunn and Whitehead never materialized in the game as Dunn played sparingly due to illness.
What has materialized is that with Whitehead’s determination in developing his overall skills, he is once again being recognized in the same upper echelon level of players such as Dunn. Whitehead is certain to be an All-Big East selection and is in contention for the conference’s Player of the Year award. In the final 10 games of the season, Whitehead averaged 21.0 points and 5.7 assists, while leading all guards in the country in blocked shots.
Whitehead has achieved all this while making the adjustment from being primarily a shooting guard in high school, and in his first year at Seton Hall, to now learning to play point guard where he has to organize the offense making sure that the other players are involved.
“He’s really motivated to win,” said Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard, who also is in the running for Big East Coach of the Year. “That’s where he’s matured. Because in the past it was about him. But now it’s no longer about him. He understands it is about the team.” Where did this incredible drive to play basketball come from?
Whitehead grew up as a basketball prodigy in Brooklyn’s Coney Island with the expectation that he would be the next great player in an area of the city where everything seems to be judged by basketball. Before him were Stephon Marbury, Sebastian Telfair, and Lance Stephenson, who all made it to the NBA; but, to this tight-knit community, it's that all three won the coveted New York City public school championships for famed Abraham Lincoln High School that they are most remembered for.
Whitehead did not disappoint when his time came at Lincoln. He was a four- year starter for the Railsplitters, and in his junior year he joined this elite club in leading the school to a city title. After his senior year he was named Mr. Basketball in New York and is considered the best prospect to come out of New York in the last five years.
“I really feed into being competitive,” said Whitehead, when asked about his success on the court. “The more competitive it is on the floor, the more that I like it.“
With the Big East tournament about to begin, and with Seton Hall’s first appearance in the NCAA tournament since 2006 right after that, Whitehead will certainly have plenty of chances to show his competitive nature in the next few weeks.
In addition to being a contributor to TAPinto, Mike Cohen is the Founder/Director of Throwback Sports, a sports program for children and the Sports Editor for Education Update in New York City. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.