Whitehead could be Nets’ new ‘quarterback’
Former Lincoln Star Will Likely be Available in Second Round of Draft
Kenny Atkinson knows the importance of having a good point guard.
“I think the point guard is like the NFL quarterback,” the Brooklyn Nets’ newly hired coach intimated last week during his introductory press conference at the team’s training center in Sunset Park.
Which way the Nets go in terms of landing their future point man may have become a bit clearer Wednesday morning as they awoke to the news that former Lincoln High School star Isaiah Whitehead would forego his final two years at Seton Hall University to enter next month’s NBA Draft.
Brooklyn, which lost the rights to its first-round pick until at least 2019 via the “blockbuster” deal that brought Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett here in the summer of 2013, will pick 55th overall in the second round of this year’s NBA Draft at Downtown’s Barclays Center on June 23.
With approximately $40 million of cap space available to land a floor-leader via free agency this summer, the Nets may be lured into inking the likes of Memphis speedster Mike Conley.
Or, general manager Sean Marks and Atkinson may choose a cheaper route, picking up one of the many point guards they have doubtlessly been vigorously scouting overseas.
Option three, of course, would be to pick Whitehead, who is coming off a spectacular sophomore campaign with the Pirates, guiding them to 25 wins and an NCAA Tournament berth after earning Most Outstanding Player honors at the Big East Tournament.
Current mock drafts have Whitehead going anywhere from 51st to 58th in next month’s annual swap meet on the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues, meaning he’s right in the Nets’ wheelhouse.
Those who follow high school basketball with a religious fervor in our fair borough will also remember Whitehead as the player who guided dynastic Lincoln High to the 2013 PSAL title before earning the state’s Mr. Basketball Award in 2014.
The 6-foot-4, 210-pounder endured a difficult, if not disappointing, freshman season at Seton Hall, but flourished under former NBA assistant Kevin Willard as a sophomore in South Orange, N.J.
“I am so proud of what Isaiah has accomplished,” Willard said. “There wasn’t a harder working young man who has done more to achieve his dream of playing in the NBA, and he now has a chance to see that dream come true.
“It has been an absolute pleasure coaching him for two years; he came here to help Seton Hall return to national prominence and the NCAA Tournament, and with the time he put in towards getting better, he did exactly that,” Willard continued. “Now he will be an ambassador for our great university at professional basketball’s highest level.”
The Nets, who have thus far remained mum on how they hope to fill what Atkinson clearly feels is the most important position on the hardwood, will have to decide if Whitehead can aid in resurrecting their floundering program.
“Obviously, we can’t talk about any specific names,” Atkinson said. “But there’s some exciting names out there.
“Hopefully, we get lucky,” he added. “But I agree, that’s an important position that whoever we get in here, we need to develop and play the style of play that we want to play.”
Whitehead, who averaged 18.2 points, 5.1 assists, 3.6 rebounds, 1.4 blocks and 1.2 steals during what turned out to be his final collegiate season, will be the latest in a long line of Coney Island phenoms to play in the NBA, following the likes of Railsplitter legends Stephon Marbury, Sebastian Telfair and Lance Stephenson.
But Marks and Atkinson aren’t likely to select Whitehead simply because he might boost ticket sales or give the Nets an identity they have sorely lacked the past two seasons while going a combined 59-105.
“We’ll sit and see how systematic we can be about it come draft time,” Marks said.
Atkinson admitted that the Nets would have to “look under every rock” to find the talent necessary to return to the postseason, which they reached in each of their first three seasons here.
He may not have to dig that deep if Whitehead fits the criteria of the ‘quarterback’ the Nets’ new regime is seeking.
See you in June.
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