Home News After injury-riddled season, Dariq Whitehead ready to contribute as Nets enter rebuild

After injury-riddled season, Dariq Whitehead ready to contribute as Nets enter rebuild

For Dariq Whitehead, a former five-star recruit who was named MVP of the McDonald’s All-American Game in 2022, last season extracted a heavy toll.

Whitehead’s lifelong dream of playing in the NBA came true after the Nets selected him with the 22nd overall pick in last year’s draft. But the 19-year-old did not play in summer league last year because of an injury suffered at Duke, appeared in just two regular-season games for Brooklyn, and spent most of his rookie campaign — when healthy — with G League affiliate Long Island before he underwent season-ending surgery in late January to address a stress reaction in his left shin.

“I felt it when I first got to the G-League,” Whitehead said of the shin injury that cut his rookie season short. “I wanted to fight through it because I’ve been in that position before and I just got drafted and I came in injured, so I wanted to push through it and see if I could work to overcome that. But eventually we came to a decision with Sean [Marks] and them that the best decision for me was to go get the surgery so that I could start to feel good and get back on pace to being who I was.”

Injuries have put Whitehead’s professional aspirations on hold. After all, you cannot develop into a productive player in the NBA when you are stuck on the trainer’s table. His toughest battle was between the ears. Having multiple rehabilitation sessions each time he stepped into the Nets’ practice facility, for months, whilst his teammates fought through a grueling regular season without him.

While few players around the league impact winning in their rookie seasons, Whitehead barely got the opportunity to try. That is what troubled him the most, those feelings of uselessness, helplessness, not the injury itself. But Whitehead said he had an incredible support system around him, and because of them, he never lost confidence in himself.

“I left home when I was 12 years old, 13 years old to go chase this dream,” Whitehead said. “So, I knew no matter what it was, I was going to continue to fight and get back to where I needed to be… I put too much time in to just stop and let it all go.”

Now healthy, Marks said Whitehead will have no restrictions as the Nets begin their slate of Summer League games on Friday in Las Vegas. The Montverde Academy product now has a golden opportunity to prove to Marks, first-year head coach Jordi Fernandez, assistant Steve Hetzel and the entire organization that he is still worth the investment.

“At this point we’re going to throw him out there,” Marks said. “I mean, he hasn’t played in two years on a consistent basis, so I think we have to temper [expectations] a little bit. But at the same time, I know the young man is itching to get out there, play and get back to form. So, that’s exciting for us, to see how it goes. And hopefully not only through Summer League, but into the offseason and training camp and so forth.”

Brooklyn is entering a full rebuild and Whitehead can be a major part of it. And while the 6-6 guard is technically a rookie in terms of on-court experience in the NBA, he is already a seasoned veteran when it comes to overcoming adversity.

“I’d say this is the first time in my career, since probably high school, where I’m feeling like I could get out there and be myself again and contribute the way I know I should contribute,” Whitehead said. “It’s been a lot; it’s been a tough road, but I’m built for it.

“With the team we had last year, me not being able to play, I was able to take a lot of things from them and apply it to myself this year. No matter if that’s off the court, how to get extra minutes on the court, stay on the court, things like that. So, just being able to take things from my vets and be a sponge to them and apply that to myself this year, so I can hopefully have a great year.”

And if Whitehead can stay healthy this time around, and everything clicks, what kind of player can Nets fans expect?

“A confident guy who’s never scared to take a shot, never scared to make the right play, a leader and a good teammate,” said fellow second-year player Jalen Wilson. “I feel like those are good qualities that he has and he’s able to come in and just bring guys together with his communication, his character, and that’s everything you want in a teammate as well.”


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