Determined to carry Blue Jackets to victory, John Whitehead almost does.
By JOHN C. COTEY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 13, 2003
LAKELAND -- When the fourth quarter started, so did John Whitehead.
The Admiral Farragut guard decided then he would bring his team back from a 34-28 deficit, he would make the big shots, he would grab the big rebounds, he would make it happen.
And he almost did. Whitehead scored 14 of his game-high 24 in the final quarter and pushed his team into the lead, and if not for a turnover with five seconds left, Admiral Farragut and not Miami Northwest Christian would be playing Friday for the Class A championship.
"I thought we had the game on lock," Whitehead said. "This one really, really hurts. We always come together to find a way to win. I was just trying to do everything I could to help us do that."
Whitehead's performance was a near-fitting end to his best season.
"John wanted to (take over) and that's the sign of a good player," Admiral Farragut coach Mike Wells said. "If he wouldn't have done it, I don't know who would have."
Whitehead, the Blue Jackets' leading scorer this season, jump started his team with two first-quarter 3-pointers as it took a 17-3 lead, then revived it when it went flat during the second and third quarters.
He started the fourth with a three-point play to cut the Northwest lead to 34-31, and a minute later he scored after a mad scramble for a loose ball to put the Blue Jackets in front 35-34.
From that point, Whitehead was money from the free-throw line. His two gave the Blue Jackets a 42-37 lead with 2:21 left, and as they tried to stave off the Eagles' furious rally, Whitehead made 7 of 8 down the stretch.
"I was feeling it from the line, so I just wanted to get the ball and let them foul me," Whitehead said.
With 29 seconds left, Whitehead did get the ball, but he ran over a Northwest Christian player while trying to force the ball down the sideline. That led to the Eagles taking the lead, but Whitehead took it right back with two free throws.
That is the yin and yang of Whitehead: He'll thrill you with his scoring and defense and cause you to shake your head by sometimes trying to do too much.
But trying to do too much is better than doing nothing.
"Sometimes when you coach a scorer, you have to give him a little freedom," Wells said. "Isn't that (a 25-footer) a bad shot? Well, yes it is. At the same time, he'll hit three of them in a row. He flat out won us a lot of games by taking over the scoring this year.
"We've had other guys do it this year, but this was a bigger game and he stepped up."