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Dariq Whitehead says he’s ‘75 - 80%’ ready with Long Island Nets debut approaching

Nets fans could get their first look at Dariq Whitehead next week … on Long Island. Our Jordan Greene sat down with him this week in an exclusive interview.

NBA: Brooklyn Nets-Media Day Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Brooklyn Nets fans been waiting every day since June 22nd to see Dariq Whitehead, the Nets first round pick step on the court. Now, while he’s not at Barclays Center yet, there is a light at the end of the tunnel in terms of Whitehead’s recovery process.

And the first glimpse of the 6’7”, 220 pound wing could come as early as next Friday night when the Long Island Nets open their season vs. Raptors905 at Nassau Coliseum.

This weekend, under the watchful eyes of both Long Island and Brooklyn Nets staff, Whitehead was practicing with few restrictions at the Yes We Cam Community Center in Westbury, NY. Before watching Whitehead, you knew not to expect the athleticism or rapid change of pace basketball fans once saw of the now 19-year-old while at Montverde. Academy in Florida. But even then, you have to be curious to see if a 5-on-5 setting would show a comfortable Whitehead or expose his foot injury even more.

The result…let’s just say Nets fans should be excited. In a series of game-like situations, Whitehead made good reads off the pick-and-roll, was able to finish around the rim through contact, and was able to get good elevation on his jump shot.

Even though there were times where you could see he was still getting used to running full court, having defenders in his face did not seem to faze him at all.

“My recovery has been going good, I transitioned to playing five on five with no restrictions,” Whitehead told NetsDaily. “The only restriction I have is my minutes because it’s my third day of playing fives. I’m just trying to get my legs under me and get in game shape. Hopefully after our scrimmage against Westchester and some good play (in Long Island), I’ll be able to suit up with Brooklyn.

“Right now, I feel like I’m around 75 to 80% due to not having my legs under me yet. Once I feel like I have complete control on how my legs feel, which should be another two weeks, I’ll be good to go.”

According to Whitehead, the rehab process has been much stronger than his days with the Duke Blue Devils where he played between foot surgeries. He credited the organization for their level of expertise and focus while helping him get back to the court as soon as possible.

“Even though Duke did a great job with helping me, my recovery process has been better here with the Nets,” Whitehead said. “When you’re in the pros, you have people specifically focusing on you. They put a lot of money and time into you, so it’s like an investment. So far, they have been putting a lot of time into me and making sure I’m where I need to be without rushing anything.

“Knowing that they are doing the right thing for me is a blessing due to the fact that I have people who care about my career.”

While speaking to Whitehead, what’s striking was how patient he was with his recovery, especially considering how young he is. (With me being a 20-year-old college student, I sometimes lose patience on what I want to eat my campus!)

Whitehead, who was the youngest Nets draft pick ever back in June, is likely to be the second youngest Nets player ever when he eventually steps on the court ... unless he puts on a Brooklyn Nets uniform and joins in game action sometime next week, not very likely. Only Derrick Favors was younger back in 2010.

“When I went to Montverde, they taught me how to be patient in my career,” Whitehead said. “I had to play with a Cade Cunningham, a Scottie Barnes, and a Moses Moody. At one point it was their team. I had to wait my turn, and eventually Montverde became my team. I feel like its the same situation here. I got to play it out and continue to follow the grind and stay down and eventually opportunities will follow.”

Whitehead thinks he can fit quickly once cleared — and he hopes that will be soon.

“I feel like I’ll fit in well,” Whitehead said. “I can’t expect for me to be who I was immediately when I get back on the floor, especially while in the process of recovering because I have to be able to figure out defensive schemes. But once I get my legs under me, I expect to go full throttle and be an even better player than before.”

If you follow Whitehead on his journey, keep in mind the fact that coming out of high school, he was destined to be a top 5 pick. He wowed a lot of draftniks before his foot got the better of his plans...

But foot surgeries before and after his season at Duke dropped him to No. 22. Even then, Sean Marks & co. liked his prospects as a player who can play multiple positions. It doesn’t hurt that Whitehead is a local product, having grown up in Newark. He’ll have a big rooting section.

“We’re comfortable with his injury, we’re comfortable with bringing him back,” said Marks in June. “If you rewind a year, there’s a chance he was probably a lottery pick. So for a guy like that to fall to us, fantastic. We’ll take it.”