Brooklyn's Whitehead Returns Home

By Cory Wright

Isaiah Whitehead got a cheer from a good-sized crowd of supporters at Barclays Center when he was drafted on Thursday night.

He’ll be getting a lot more cheers on Atlantic Ave when he starts suiting up for the Brooklyn Nets, the first Brooklynite to play for his hometown team.

“It's a blessing,” Whitehead said. “It's a dream come true. Since Brooklyn got here, I always wanted to play for them, so it's definitely a dream come true.”

Whitehead, a Coney Island native, was drafted by the Nets with 42nd pick in the NBA Draft. The 6’5 shooting guard from Seton Hall University averaged 18.2 points, 5.1 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 32.3 minutes per game in his second year with the Pirates.

The Nets traded up to draft Whitehead, sending the 55th pick (which turned into Marcus Paige), along with cash to the Utah Jazz.

“There were a lot of things [we liked] about him,” Nets General Manager Sean Marks said. “Obviously we had seen him play a fair bit being a local guy. 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.”

While the Nets have a pair of New York-area players in Chris McCullough (Bronx) and Sean Kilpatrick (Yonkers), Whitehead holds the distinction of being the borough’s first true hometown player. It’s a prospect that excited the 21-year-old.

“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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Whitehead said he doesn’t anticipate any added pressure playing at home, noting his proximity to Brooklyn while playing college ball in South Orange,N.J. After interviews and some quality time spent together over the past few months, the Nets aren’t worried about it either.

“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.”

“There's no pressure,” Whitehead said. “I mean, I played here in high school, I've played across the bridge in Seton Hall, so it's really not far away. It's just about being about your business and taking care of what you've got to take care of.”

Whitehead took care of business last season at Seton Hall, leading his team to a 25-9 record, a Big East Championship and a berth in the NCAA Tournament. Whitehead scored 26 points – including the game-winning shot with 18 seconds left – in the Big East championship game against Villanova, earning the tournament’s most outstanding player honors.

Marks did not specify if Whitehead would play at the one or the two, but said his ability to play both made him an appealing prospect.

 “He’s versatile,” Marks said. “If you want to use combo guard or something like that, but I think we like what he brings to the table. We like his fire, his energy, his passion that’s even away from the court, not even what he does on the court.”

Marks cited his character numerous times, hearkening back to his desires to establish a winning culture in Brooklyn. The Nets’ new GM said the team’s familiarity played a role in his decision to draft Whitehead and he hopes theBrooklynite’s familiarity with the borough pays off on the court.