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For Dariq Whitehead, the waiting is the hardest part

Brian Lewis

Dariq Whitehead has been anxious to get back on the court and more specifically the Barclays Center court. The 6’7” wing, the Nets 22nd pick in the Draft, hasn’t played basketball on any court since early June, recovering from surgery on his right foot, his second procedure in 10 months.

His one season Duke, which he described as “playing on one foot,” was disappointing after a sterling high school career at Montverde Academy in Florida. Not surprisingly, a number of scouts wondered if he would ever get his game back. Sean Marks & co. had fewer doubts than others. Dr. Martin O’Malley, who did that second surgery, is also the Nets foot and ankle specialist and he told Adrian Wojnarowski on June 7. “(Whitehead) will begin his rehab process in two weeks and should be ready for full participation at the start of NBA training camp.”

O’Malley has a long list of patients who’ve done well after he performed surgery on their feet or ankle. most notably for Whitehead’s case, Caris LeVert. The former Net, like Whitehead, had reconstructive foot surgery to correct a Jones fracture on the fifth metatarsal, the bone that extends up from the pinkie toe.

In speaking with the media Sunday at the Nets and Ticketmaster “Party in the Plaza,” Whitehead said it’s going well thus far and he appeared without the walking boot he sported at Summer League in Las Vegas.

“Rehab’s going great. Foot’s feeling good. Not trying to give it a definite timetable right now, just trying to take it day by day,” Whitehead said. “But everything’s feeling good and just looking forward to approaching the season, getting back to 100%.”

Although O’Malley thinks Whitehead should be ready to “fully participate” in camp, the Nets are notoriously cautious. While Whitehead won’t talk timetable, expect Brooklyn’s brass to wait a bit longer than the opening of camp. LeVert who was on his third surgery back in March 2016 didn’t play until December 7, then the Nets 21st game that season. Will the Nets wait that long? Probably not, but expect the 19-year-old to spend some time in Long Island before he joins the Nets. Whitehead says he is prepared for the wait.

“Main thing is just making sure my foot is where it needs to be in order to progress day by day,” he told Evan Barnes and Brian Lewis. “So like I said, I can’t definitely give a timetable on what’s going to happen. But we’ve been progressing at a great rate day by day, week by week.”

Whitehead told the reporters that Summer League helped him deal with the anxiety. He studied the NBA game, its quicker decision-making in particular, calling himself a “sponge.” Jacque Vaughn, he said, has advised him to stay patient, understand that old shibboleth, the game isn’t a sprint but a marathon.

“It’s just knowing I got to be patient and take my time,” Whitehead said. “Hearing that come from him, it makes it a little more assuring [to] just take my time, get back to where I need to be and everything will work out the way it’s supposed to.

“When you’re injured, you always have that urge to want to get out there and be out there on the court with the guys,” he added. “But that’s something coach Jacque has preached to me since the first day I stepped in the door, about it’s a marathon not a [sprint] race.”

The Newark, N.J. native is also working on other parts of the NBA game, like meeting and greeting fans at the Party in the Plaza.

“I encountered a lot of people who said they’ve been Nets fans for over 20-plus years,” the 19-year-old added. “That’s a great feeling when you know you got a strong fan base behind you like that.”

Whitehead in fact has been out and about this weekend. Two nights ago, he showed up at Rucker Park in Harlem for the Summer Slam to watch and support Cooper Flagg, the Maine phenom who now plays at his old school, Montverde ...

What might the Nets get from a healthy Whitehead? He was after all the second ranked high school player in his class in 2022, Mr. Basketball, the Naismith Prep Player of the year and MVP of the McDonald’s All-American Game. So hopes are justifiably high among fans,

Whitehead’s skill set, at least offensively, matches that of Mikal Bridges, although Sean Marks has said he thinks Whitehead can play multiple positions and suggested he and the organization have patience with both him and Noah Clowney, the 6’10” Alabama bit taken one spot ahead of him.

“I mean, you know, a couple these guys are 18 years old, so just thrilled to see, ‘where’s this guy going to be in two years? Where’s he gonna be in three years? Where’s he gonna be in five years?’” said Marks on Draft Night, knowing even five years out, the two will still only be 24.

For his part, Clowney has no doubt Whitehead will succeed, that it won’t take long for him to shine once he’s back on the court in a competitive setting.

“I think for him, it’s experience he’ll get when he [gets back],” said Clowney. “I don’t know when he’s coming back … [but] when he gets practice in, he’ll hit. He’ll adjust quickly. He’s been playing at a high level for a long time.”

As for his own progress, Clowney admitted he didn’t play that well in Las Vegas. There were flashes but his shooting, a big part of why the Nets took Clowney, failed him.

“I think the only way you can learn from it is by going through the experience of that Summer League so I’m glad I played in it,” Clowney told reporters. “It was fun. I didn’t play my best obviously, [shooting] percentages were horrible, but it was a learning experience. I feel like that’s what it was supposed to be.”

Long Island’s G League season opens the first week of November, a couple of weeks after the NBA tips off. Maybe that’s a good target for fans thinking about when they’ll see Whitehead again with the ball in his hands.