If Isaiah Whitehead works out for the Nets as a point guard, they’ll have to send a thank-you note to Kevin Willard, his college coach at Seton Hall.
Whitehead, who’s just a smidge under 6’5" and powerful, had played shooting guard as far back as he could remember, explaining to reporters just before summer league that his coaches in high school, AAU (and his freshman year at the Hall) had all played him at the 2. The rationale, he said, is there aren’t that many big guards in New York.
Then, last season Willard installed him at the point and as they say in the movies, the rest of history. The Pirates won the Big East Tournament and the Nets fell in love with him, paying $3 million for his draft rights and giving him first round money when they didn’t have to. And they have been impressed. Last week, Sean Marks told reporters he’s been terrific and Thursday, Kenny Atkinson went further.
"I think we have multiple guys who can play point guard," Atkinson said, as reported by Greg Logan. "But Isaiah’s going to push guys for that position, no matter who’s there. I don’t think he’s coming in here saying, ‘I’m going to take my time.’ He has an urgency about him and a competitiveness. He’s ambitious, and that’s what I like about him."
Whitehead, the first Brooklynite to play for the Brooklyn Nets, doesn’t disagree. He described how he made the switch last season after Willard installed him at the 1.
"Basically, it was learning how to play point guard," Whitehead said. "I think I just got comfortable at the spot. The beginning of the year was my first time ever playing it, so there were some struggles. But I got into a groove and started understanding where everyone would be and where they liked the ball and I watched a lot of film. After that, it was second nature."
As Atkinson explained, the Nets have a lot of point guards, with Jeremy Lin, Greivis Vasquez, Randy Foye, Jorge Gutierrez, Yogi Ferrell and Whitehead on the training camp roster. But as Marks said last week, don’t be surprised if Whitehead "gets thrown into the fire" faster than people think.
It will be a big deal for the Nets, Brooklyn, Coney Island and Willard.