Much of the news about the Nets selection of Dariq Whitehead had to do with the risk of taking an 18-year-old with two foot surgeries or how he’s the youngest draft pick in franchise history at 18 years, 327 days old. There was also discussion of how in mock drafts from a year ago, Whitehead was seen as a top 5 pick, not the 22nd where he was eventually taken.
But there’s another aspect of the 6’7” wing coming to Brooklyn. The native of Newark’s West Side is also coming home after five years down south, first to Montverde Academy in Florida, the powerhouse high school that produced Ben Simmons and D’Angelo Russell, then college powerhouse Duke University in North Carolina.
Back when he was only 13, his family understood how talented he was and how Montverde could help him develop and get interest from college and NBA scouts. It’s the way the world works. Moreover, they had a family history to rely on. Tahir Whitehead, Dariq’s much older brother, was finishing up what would be a 10-year career as an NFL linebacker, primarily with the Detroit Lions. Dariq and Tahir’s uncle Willie Whitehead, was also a pro athlete, playing defensive end both in the NFL and Canadian Football League.
“Being away from home at a young age, going to high school in Florida, this is the first time where my family is going to be able to fully watch me play with everybody, friends and family,” he said.
Dariq also noted the homecoming aspect of the pick, although he did offer an optimistic appraisal of the commute between Newark and Barclays Center.
“The Nets being here, it’s still pretty much home — it’s just a 20-minute, 30-minute drive over the bridge,” he said. “I’m just excited for my family to be able to attend a lot of games and have that support I had going in before high school.”
And he recalled how he watched the Nets when they were playing in his hometown at the Prudential Center.
”When I was young the Nets were the New Jersey Nets, playing in Prudential Center, so I used to go around and see some games,” he said of the teams that included Brook Lopez, Deron Williams and one of the last Jersey guys on the Nets, Atlantic City’s Dennis Horner. (Whitehead is the only player from the New York tri-state area on the Nets roster.)
It will be a while before Whitehead suits up for the Nets. Sean Marks wouldn’t put a date on it, but Dr. Martin O’Malley, the Nets foot and ankle specialist, told Adrian Wojnarowski that “should be ready for full participation at the start of NBA training camp,”
Whitehead thinks everything will work out.
“I’m a big believer in things happen for a reason and God has everything set in the right path, so it’s definitely gonna fuel the extra motivation, but I’m just here to think about what’s here now,” he said. “I’m here to focus on the future, so I’ve gotta put that behind me and help try to contribute to this team and [playing] winning basketball as much as possible.”
Although Whitehead will not be playing in the Summer League this year, another New Jersey native will don the black-and-white in Las Vegas, Jordan Hall, a native of Cape May Court House, has signed a Summer League deal, per Adam Zagoria of NJ.com. Hall, a 6’8” wing who played college ball at St. Joseph’s in Philadelphia, was a two-way last season with the Spurs.
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