BOGACZYK: Whiteside's Long and Winding Road from Herd to Heat
The Word on the Herd-Feb. 12, 2015
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Hassan Whiteside said he doesn't look back much these days, and when he does, he mostly uses his history as a motivational tool.
With his stature growing and a future flush with potential now that he's gotten more than his foot in the NBA door, the Marshall one-and-done big man already has had a pro hoops career with more stops than a New York subway line.
With the Miami Heat, the 7-foot Whiteside has opened eyes, and he's finally becoming the player he was prospected to be when he left the Herd after 182 blocks in 2009-10 - the No. 5 single-season total in NCAA major-college history.
"Playing for Marshall is something I'll always remember as something really good," Whiteside said Tuesday by phone from Miami before the Heat boarded a plane for Wednesday's loss at Cleveland, where he had a sixth double-double in the last eight games. "What I miss most is how the fans were there. They'd show up with fly-swatters or those big hands. They wanted to see me to block shots.
"They really took me in at Marshall and I appreciate that, and I want represent Marshall as best I can here. I know there have been some great players there who played in the NBA, like Hal Greer. Jason Williams played at Marshall (before he transferred to Florida). I want to add to that list."
Perhaps if Whiteside - still only 25 -- had stayed with the Herd more than one season, does he think it might have made a difference in his GPS-challenged route to Miami?
"You never know," he said. "You can keep asking yourself that, but it doesn't do any good. You can't change the past. You can only change the future. Everybody wants to go, and maybe it's the right time.
"My first year (after he was a second-round draft pick by Sacramento), I tore a patellar tendon in my left knee, hurt it in the (NBA) Summer League, right after I left Marshall. Then I tore it during the season (early February) of my rookie year.
"Maybe I do that at Marshall, and then I miss my sophomore season. You just don't know."
His struggle to achieve success makes Whiteside more appreciative these days. Only a few months ago, he was playing hoops in a Charlotte, N.C., YMCA, waiting for a call that finally came. And then he found himself a teammate of Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Luol Deng and Mario Chalmers.
"The biggest thing, besides getting an opportunity, is this is a great situation," Whiteside said. "It's a new organization for me and they welcomed me with open arms, but the biggest thing is it's a perfect fit for me.
"I'm more mature, but what's most important is I have veteran teammates who have won championships. They can help me be the player I want to be and hopefully I can help us win."
Whiteside was the No. 33 pick in the 2010 draft, and he signed a four-year, $3.8 million contract with the Kings. Besides his injury - "it took 13 months for me to feel like it should," he said - his second year coincided with the most recent NBA lockout.
He's played for four NBDL teams, as well as multiple teams in China and Lebanon. Prior to this season, he'd played only 19 NBA games. He's been slowed recently by a right ankle sprain, but tonight's game in Cleveland figures to be his 25th this season.
"Yes, I've been through a lot, but honestly, I never lost faith," said Whiteside, a native of Gastonia, N.C., the hometown of former NBA players James Worthy, Sleepy Floyd and Darrell Armstrong. "I never lost faith in myself or my abilities.
"I always thought it was just a matter of time, even as long as it took. I always believe in the saying, `Never Give Up.' ... Jim Valvano ... from North Carolina State, and I'm from North Carolina. You should never give up on your dreams."
He's been a globetrotter who never played for the Globetrotters, and back on Sept. 25, he figured his return to the NBA was imminent. He was signed by the Memphis Grizzlies ... but was waived about a month later. The Grizzlies brought him back on Nov. 19, and released him the next day.
Four days later, he signed with the Heat, but after one game landed with his fourth NBDL team, in Iowa. He returned to Miami within a week, but it wasn't until the New Year that a new Whiteside emerged.
For Whiteside, it was like blocking a shot ... timing was everything
His big introduction came Jan. 25 at Chicago's United Center, where Whiteside and his 7-foot-7 wingspan came off the bench for 14 points, 12 rebounds and a Heat-record 13 blocks in fewer than 25 minutes in a 96-84 win over the Bulls. The game was an ABC national telecast, on the NFL Sunday between the conference title games and the Super Bowl.
And while hoops cognoscenti talked up Whiteside's triple-double, he was thrilled for another reason.
"It was a huge game for me on a big stage," Whiteside said. "But for me, what was neat was it came against the Bulls. Chicago was my favorite team when I was growing up, because of Michael Jordan, from North Carolina and I'm from North Carolina. My big brother rooted for the Bulls so I fell in line like little brothers do.
"Having a game like that there, in Chicago, against that team ... it was really special to me."
And while his name had been linked with teams like Al Mouttahed Tripoli, Jiangsu Tongxi, Sichuan Blue Whales and Sioux Falls Skyforce, now he's being mentioned with Shaquille O'Neal, Wilt Chamberlain, Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo.
He has seven double-doubles since Jan. 4, and his 67-percent shooting in January was topped in only one month in Miami history - April 2006, when Shaquille O'Neal shot 68 percent as the Heat headed toward an NBA title.
Whiteside had a 23-16 game against the Clippers, a 16-16 game against the Bucks and a 16-24 against Dallas. Last Wednesday, he went for 24 points and 20 rebounds against Minnesota, shooting 12-of-13 from the field - the third-highest shooting percentage in a 20-20 game since 1970.
Wilt (1973) and Mutombo (1999) had the other two.
In a six-game stretch from Jan. 24-Feb. 4, Whiteside had 101 points, 92 rebounds and 23 blocks - becoming the first Heat player with at least 100-90-20 in six games since Mourning in 1998-99.
"What I learned most while I was hurt back when I was a rookie is how much I missed the game of basketball," Whiteside said. "I missed being around teammates, not being on the court, and not being on the court with them.
"As I kept playing, it was always about wanting to get back (to the NBA). The things I went through, at times it was tough. People would ask what I was doing this for and I'd tell them that I was fighting for something.
"Everybody should fight for something as an inspiration. It gives you something to think about, points you toward a goal."
And now that he's climbed the ladder and opened some eyes, Whiteside finds that just as his game has changed, so has his opponents' attention to his wingspan.
"I don't know; I just go out and play hard and try to produce," Whiteside said when asked about sustaining his recent success. "I really feel like they're paying attention now. It's like, you have a good game, and then you have five good games, and it's like, `OK, this guy can play.'
"Then it's 10 games, and then it's a month. And now, going up for a rebound, there's always a body - or two - on me. On defense, more teams are driving and kicking instead of taking it at me."
As he prepared to end the call, he said he wanted to leave with one more thought.
OK, why not? What's that?