The Battle's On For Whitt

Arkansas (13-6, 2-4) and Missouri (15-4, 3-3) will battle Tuesday night at Bud Walton Arena and then be back at it off the court on Wednesday as both try to land Columbia, Mo., Hickman junior guard Jimmy Whitt.

No matter how Tuesday night's game between Arkansas (13-6, 2-4) and visiting Missouri (15-4, 3-3) turns out at Bud Walton Arena, the two teams will be back at it off the court recruiting the next day.

Both teams are among the suitors for Columbia, Mo., Hickman junior guard Jimmy Whitt (6-3,170), a top 100 player nationally in the 2015 class who is averaging 21.5 points, 3.7 assists and a whopping 5.7 steals so far this season for his 17-1 team.

Whitt has put up at least 30 points in his last two games, including 31 Saturday afternoon in the No. 1 Kewpies 71-48 blowout win over No. 2 Hazelwood West in a battle of the top two teams in Class 5A at Mizzou Arena.

"The kid is a tremendous athlete and has a high basketball IQ," Hickman head coach David Johnson said. "There's aren't too many things that he can't do. He's got a great pull-up jumper, he can get to the basket and he can finish. He is really explosive."

Whitt was one of several top 2015 Arkansas recruiting targets that recently took in the Razorbacks' 74-68 overtime loss to Florida, which ended a 23-game home winning streak.

Arkansas, the first team of what is now 12 teams to offer Whitt, got in on him early and has stayed on him according to Johnson with Anderson and assistant Melvin Watkins recruiting him hard.

Anderson was the coach at Missouri before leaving three years ago for Arkansas, where he was an assistant for the Razorbacks for 17 years during a time the school won a national championship.

"Jimmy and our kids got to know Coach Anderson and his coaching staff when they were here at Missouri and we were able to develop a great relationship that has continued to this day while they are at Arkansas," Johnson said. "We came down there to Arkansas' team camp this past summer and it was great getting to hang out with guys like Coach Anderson and Coach Watkins."

Whitt talked about his thoughts on Arkansas during a team camp last summer.

"I think the most appealing thing about Arkansas is probably the style of play," Witt said. "They really like to get up and down the court and I like that because I'm really used to doing that at my high school. We like to put pressure on the ball, trap and I feel like that's what they do, so that fits me really well.

"I think it's a really exciting play format, how they play and how they get up and down the court," Whitt added. " I've been around that for so long, it really makes me interested in the system."

Whitt averaged 18.6 points and had 131 steals last season as a sophomore while leading his team to a third-place finish in the state tournament.

His talents were on full display recently in St. Louis, where he was born.

He had 27 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists, made a wide assortment of shots from all over the floor and even showed off his athletic ability with a pair of high-flying dunks.

"He showed why he's probably the best player in Missouri," Johnson said.

Whitt will remind many of the type of players that Anderson has flourished with in his system in the past.

"I feel like my long arms really help because I can get my hands on a lot of balls," Whitt said. "So when we go to trap or pressure the ball, I feel like I have a lot of reach to get my hand on a lot of basketballs on the defensive end."

Whitt has over 200 steals in the last 48 games.

"He is a great defender, has long arms and great instincts," Johnson said. "That has allowed him to get in the passing lanes and really create havoc. He usually finishes off those steals with either a basket for himself on someone else on the break."

He is good friends with Arkansas freshman guard Manuale Watkins, who played at Hickman before transferring to Fayetteville when his dad came long with Anderson to take over the Razorbacks.

"I have gotten to know Coach Anderson and people like Manuale over the years and become friends with them and know they are all really good people," Whitt said. "I think wherever Coach Anderson goes he takes programs and makes them really good programs. I think with him coming here that Arkansas has a big opportunity to be great the next couple of years."

Some scouts have labeled Whitt a point guard, others a scoring guard.

"I feel like I am a combo guard that can play either the one or two just depending on what the coach needs me to do," Whitt said. "I feel like I do a good job at the one of setting up my men, but I can also score if I need to."

The Razorbacks join Missouri, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, SMU, Colorado, Creighton and Wichita State among his offers.

"There are so many that it is hard to keep up with," Johnson said. "I know that Gonzaga and Marquette are close to offering as well."

Whitt, whose older brother Marcus is a redshirt sophomore playing at NAIA Columbia College after originally attending Tennessee State as a freshman, just has outstanding versatility to his game per Johnson.

"He gives you what you need," Johnson said. "His points speak for themselves, but it's really the other things that he does that really help us as a basketball team."

Whitt is already a three-year starter, having averaged 13.5 as a freshman.

"He has an opportunity to be one of the best that's come out of here," Johnson told the Columbia Daily Tribune in an earlier interview. "The thing is, he's just basically scratching the surface of how good he's going to be. He hasn't even reached his potential. That's what's really going to be scary. When that comes, watch out."

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