Few players in the Big East were better than Seton Hall’s Isaiah Whitehead this season.
While the sophomore did not win the conference’s Player of the Year award on Wednesday – Providence’s Kris Dunn did – Whitehead’s 2015-16 campaign landed him on the All-Big East First Team. Only six other Pirates have ever received such a selection.
Head coach Kevin Willard said his point guard’s play was worthy of Big East Player of the Year.
“I think he deserves it,” Willard said of Whitehead before the award was announced. “Maybe I’m a little biased because he’s my guy, but he’s had such a good year.”
Whitehead talked about the award as if it were an afterthought. Instead, it is his team that takes top priority.
“I’m just happy we’re in third place,” Whitehead said, referring to Seton Hall’s standing heading into the Big East Tournament on Thursday. “We were projected to finish seventh, so I’m just happy we’re in third place. We’re sitting high right now.”
Whitehead came to Seton Hall as a freshman with plenty of fanfare last season. A hyped-up McDonald’s All-American, he battled injuries throughout the year. This season went without a hitch, and Pirates fans saw the player who everyone had been raving about a year ago.
Overall, Whitehead ended Seton Hall’s 22-win regular season averaging 17.9 points, 4.9 assists and 1.5 blocks a game while shooting 38.5 percent from the floor and 38.7 percent from deep. All of those numbers are improve- ments from his rookie year.
“I matured as a basketball player, as a person,” Whitehead said. “Just trying to become a leader on the floor and I think I really excelled at doing that; trying to find my teammates and taking shots second.”
If Whitehead’s season is due to growing up as a basketball player, then the kid from Coney Island hit a growth spurt once conference play rolled around.
He owned the Big East, finishing first in three-pointers per game (2.9), second in points per game (20), third in assists (5.5) and blocks (1.7) per game and fourth in three-point field-goal percentage (42.6) during league action.
Whitehead set the Hall’s competition ablaze during the team’s final 11 games, averaging 22.1 points, 5.6 assists, 4.1 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and 1.5 steals during that span while hitting 50.6 percent of his 81 long-distance shot attempts. The Pirates went 9-2 during his tear.
With the hot streak came the curious eyes of NBA scouts. As of now, Whitehead is not a projected first-round draft pick – according to DraftExpress – but that could change if he plays like he has been during the Big East and NCAA tournaments. Whitehead said he is just focusing on the present, though.
“In the preseason we were saying we were going to prove everyone wrong,” Whitehead said. “We’re still hungry and still want to win more games.”
Gary Phillips can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @GaryHPhillips.