Lincoln legend Whitehead staying home
Nets Grab Brooklyn-Bred Railsplitters Point Guard in Draft Night Deal
Geographically speaking, Isaiah Whitehead’s return to Brooklyn wasn’t much of a homecoming at all.
After all, the Brooklyn native and legendary Lincoln High School point guard played collegiately at Seton Hall University the past two years in South Orange, N.J., with the Pirates using the Nets’ previous arena, Newark’s Prudential Center, as their home court.
“I mean, I played here in high school,” Whitehead said after the Nets made a Draft Night deal with Utah last Thursday at the Barclays Center for the right to pick the homegrown playmaker with the 42nd overall selection in the second round.
“I’ve played across the bridge in Seton Hall. So it’s really not far away,” he added.
But now, and for the past four seasons, the Nets have played right here in the heart of Downtown Brooklyn, and so will Whitehead, who more than hinted that this was the dream outcome he’d imagined since declaring himself eligible for the draft back in May.
“It’s a blessing,” Whitehead said of being picked by his hometown team, which wasn’t even here when he began his stint as the next big thing out of Lincoln, following in the footsteps of previous NBA-bound Coney Island-bred legends like Stephon Marbury, Sebastian Telfair and Lance Stephenson.
“It’s a dream come true,” added Whitehead, who guided the Railsplitters to the 2013 PSAL title en route to being named New York state’s Mr. Basketball. “Since [the] Brooklyn [Nets] got here, I always wanted to play for them, so it’s definitely a dream come true.”
Whitehead, who was expected to have his official introduction as a Net in Coney Island on Tuesday afternoon, had a mediocre-at-best freshman year at Seton Hall University before leading the Pirates to their first Big East Tournament title since 1993 this past March.
The Nets, who swapped their 55th overall selection to Utah for the right to select Whitehead, are looking for a “quarterback,” new head coach Kenny Atkinson’s term for point guard, to lead their revival on the Downtown scene after enduring a brutal 21-61 campaign in 2015-16, and failing to reach the playoffs for the first time since their arrival in our fair borough back in 2012.
It would be silly to think Whitehead could simply step into his new Brooklyn uniform and deliver the Nets to instant relevance, but the 6-foot-4, 210-pound former McDonald’s All-American is ready for the challenges that lie ahead.
“There’s no pressure,” Whitehead insisted. “It’s just about being about your business and taking care of what you’ve got to take care of.”
The Nets must do the same in the coming weeks.
Brooklyn also traded into the first round to grab Michigan shooting guard Caris LeVert from the Indiana Pacers, reportedly for power forward Thaddeus Young. However, that deal cannot be officially announced until at least July 6, when the NBA lifts its free agent moratorium.
By shipping out Young, who was owed approximately $39 million over the next three seasons, Nets general Sean Marks has opened up considerable cap space for the team to go hunting for a more seasoned “quarterback” next month.
That could mean Sacramento’s Rajon Rondo, Memphis’ Steven Conley or Charlotte’s Jeremy Lin, each of whom will be eligible for free agency come Friday.
But for now, the Nets must remain mum on those matters, giving them an opportunity to market Whitehead as the first true Brooklynite to play for the Nets since their historic relocation to the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues.
“There were a lot of things [we liked] about [Whitehead],” Marks said after finishing his first draft since replacing former GM Billy King.
“Obviously we had seen him play a fair bit being a local guy,” he added. “We were really familiar with him, his background and the person, the character that he has and he fits with our group, he fits what we want to be, what we embody. His tenacity, his professionalism and for us he embodies what Brooklyn grit is all about.”
Marks intimated that the Nets did their due diligence in deciphering whether or not having Whitehead so close to home would be a concern going forward.
“That was one of the questions we asked,” Marks said. “I think he will succeed in this market. He’s certainly familiar with it. We have no concerns about him in Brooklyn.”
Neither does Whitehead.
“I mean, that’s everything,” Whitehead said of playing in his home borough. “Just to be able to wear that Brooklyn uniform across my chest, it would be an amazing accomplishment, and I can’t wait for it.”
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Brooklyn’s other major pro sports franchise, the New York Islanders, had quite a draft day themselves Saturday in Buffalo, N.Y.
General manager Garth Snow, trying to find some talented wingers to play alongside team captain John Tavares, grabbed Boston University Kieffer Bellows with the 19th overall pick.
Bellows, the son of former NHLer Brian Bellows, was considered a top-10 talent who actually slipped down on draft day, making his selection a no-brainer for Snow, who is trying to fill the void that will likely be left by the pending free-agent defections of forwards Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo.
“We’re extremely happy that he was available at 19,” Snow said. “For us, we see him as a top-10 pick. He competes and obviously an ability to put the puck in the net. A player that just doesn’t take shifts off. He’s gritty and competes which is something we’re excited to be able to add to our organization.”
“It was special, it was an honor to be selected by them,” Bellows said while donning his new blue-and-orange jersey. “I don’t know if I’ve ever had a bigger smile on my face. It was unreal, I’m so happy.”
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