Anyone at all familiar with high school basketball accepts out of hand that players emerging from New York always receive a big push. Local fans there have a way of spotting and promoting their burgeoning playground legends, and as such some of the most touted freshmen in history have hailed from the Big Apple.
That hype never truly ballooned on Isaiah Whitehead — at least not the way it did for Sebastian Telfair, Lance Stephenson and others in recent years — but indeed he got a jumpstart from those within the city and nationally. He made his debut Scout.com appearance at Under Armour's Best of the Best event in 2011, where he impressed colleague Brian Snow as a strong and skilled scorer.
And that's how Whitehead registers to this day. His talent drew offers from Rutgers, Syracuse and St. John's before even his sophomore year, and the pursuit grew from there. Heading into the 2012 spring he had picked up offers from UConn, Florida State, Georgetown and Iowa State. During this period he stated that Jim Boeheim's Orange stood out as his favorite.
He continued to thrive at Lincoln and entered this past spring's travel cycle as a potential prep All-American. And at that point, he stepped up his game even further. He demonstrated improved dribbling and shooting at the Hoop Group Pittsburgh event in April, and even more national powers began to track his progress closely.
His summer high point may have been the NBPA Top 100 Camp in June. He arguably was the most impressive guard in attendance, and he went on to play outstanding ball in Las Vegas at two separate July events.
His fall figures to be busy and tense. Whitehead has mentioned Syracuse, Louisville, Indiana, UCLA, Arizona, Minnesota and St. John's at various points, and the next step for him is to set up visits and proceed from there.
Whitehead excels at creating his own offense. He always has been a strong, aggressive driver, and over the past year he has honed his perimeter jump shot. In short, he possesses numerous options by which he can assert his scoring game.
We list Whitehead as a wing because that's his likely position for the remainder of his career, but he actually dribbles well enough to be a combo. He's excellent with his left (off) hand and comfortably drives in either direction. He's also a tough, fearless finisher who creates contact and utilizes impressive body control to score off the glass when challenged by big men.
That's the nuts and bolts of his scoring, and that style rings true for a New York City kid. But where he has taken a leap forward is his jumper, which now features three-point range and significantly improved accuracy. He doesn't wield the most beautiful shot around, but he generally seeks smart attempts and thus has raised his efficiency.
Whitehead also has added the beginnings of a mid-range game, an area he can cultivate in the future. Meanwhile, he's a fine and alert passer whose desire to win is obvious. He has excelled in camp settings, true, but in Vegas he reinforced the fact that he can thrive in a more team-oriented format as well.
And we love his defensive potential. Whitehead simply is too quick, strong and tough not to become a factor on that end of the floor. Though not as long as some of the other wings in this class, he can compensate for that with quick feet and a hard-nosed approach.
A person wouldn't be unreasonable to carry just a hint of skepticism toward his jump shot. To wit, does he have the mechanics to hit them when facing high-major defensive pressure in the college game? He doesn't have the long history for marksmanship that some of the more established shooters enjoy, so it's a valid question that he can't address until next fall.
Some program will extremely fortunate to insert Whitehead into its starting lineup. Rugged, athletic players who have skill don't come around every day, even for elite schools, and thus he's likely to make an immediate impact.
And if he can bury perimeter shots versus that level of competition, he may not require too much time before he's ready to take the next step. Whitehead's overall scoring arsenal and underappreciate playmaking and defense could make him a collegiate star.