Young reassurring national ranking

Young reassurring national ranking
January 24, 2014, 10:30 pm
Kristen Harper

The Whitney Young Dolphins faced another test Monday night as they squared off against the talented, nationally-ranked Oak Hill Warriors squad. And yet again they proved why they are one of the best teams in the country; this time doing so without the normal star-studded performance from Duke-bound center Jahlil Okafor.

“I was pretty frustrated with myself, especially for the first foul that I got and with the offensive; that was out of frustration, and then the second, I felt like it wasn’t a foul so that added to my frustration,” he said of his unsatisfying performance and inability to keep a level head. 

After Okafor went down with two quick fouls midway through the third quarter, fellow senior and Georgetown commit Paul White seemingly put the weight of the game on his shoulders, a feat experience had him well prepared for. White, who finished with a double-double (19 points, 11 rebounds), may have silenced a few critics as one of the critiques has been him shying away in crunch time. But head coach Ty Slaughter quickly put any doubt to rest saying, “Paul White played like an All-American.

“I’ll continue to tell anybody that listens; he’s as good as any player in the Country bar none in spite of what he may be ranked or what other people are ranking him. I think what we saw last week was Paul playing like an All American and I’ll continue to say that,” he went on to say.

[RELATED: Whitney Young's Ty Slaughter leaving a lasting impression]

“Well, I just wanted to come into the game with the most confidence that I could gather up,” White said humbly. “Oak Hill is a great team. They are a great program. All the pros that they have in the NBA, it is amazing what the coach over there has done. So we as Whitney Young talked about it before the game and we wanted to go into it playing our best. Luckily we ended up winning.”

White executed two crucial plays for the Dolphins as he knocked down two free throws giving Young a 47-46 lead with 2:37 remaining in the game. And after seeing a slight opening in the lane, White drove to the basket hard, getting the And-1 at the rim, giving the Dolphins a 51-48 advantage. But as the game hung in the balance, Okafor checked back into the lineup where he received an excellent pass from White for a slam dunk, putting the nail in the coffin for the 53-50 win over the legendary Warriors.

“When things like that happen, when Jahlil ended up getting in foul trouble or even with other things that may happen, me being the team captain, I do have to take that initiative and make sure we don’t hang our heads on that,” White said with pride in his voice.

“Then when Jahlil came in with those fouls and he still provided for us. I was able to give him a nice pass towards the end of the game and he dunked it. And that kind of set the tone and we ended up winning.”

History has shown that pressure in crunch time can either make or break a player. The weight that comes with being a nationally-ranked prospect is not easy to endure. But in some cases, players use the pressure as a motivating tool that fuels their need to succeed. 

“To be honest with you pressure is probably something that comes along with it but pressure isn’t always negative in my eyes,” White said. “It definitely puts some type of motor or some type of fire under you that makes you feel like you have to make play. And me being the player that I am and Jahlil being the player that he is, we were able to make those plays at the end of the game.

[ALSO: Young's Paul White perseveres despite rough Chicago streets]

Okafor, who felt he let the team down, was proud of White but was not surprised at the level of talent he displayed when the game was on the line as he showed just how great a player he truly is.

“I was really impressed. You know he’s been doing it all winter break, pretty much the whole year. He has been pretty consistent with his playing. I think everybody is starting to realize how underrated he is,” Okafor said of his teammate.

“I was just happy with the way they battled, especially Paul White and Miles Reynolds; they really led the guys out there.”

Reynolds, who didn’t make a splash statistically, made a profound impact down the stretch according to head coach Ty Slaughter.

“Miles is absolutely the heart and soul of this basketball program,” he said. “He may not be the most valuable player but he is our most solid player that plays hard every time out.”

Reynolds and White have played for three years as starters on Young’s varsity basketball squad. And in that time they have played in some high-pressure matchups, both nationally and in-state. But now, three and a-half years later, the fans are finally beginning to see the culmination of all the hard work and dedication they have put into their game. They both have worked beyond the point of expectation and for Reynolds it was good to see his fellow teammate thrive during critical possessions.

“Paul has been playing like that all season so I wasn’t surprised at all. I think he finished with maybe 19 points but that’s not what I was most impressed with. I was impressed with the defense. He really stuck with that big guy well and when Jahlil went out, I think he only scored a few baskets. So Paul has been playing excellent for us,” he acknowledged. 

[MORE: Duke-bound Jahlil Okafor still focused on a state championship]

White, Reynolds, and guard Rodney Herenton logged the most minutes, playing all 32 in the grudge match against the Warriors. And while playing exceptionally longer minutes is a common trait for the two seniors, this was a new task for the young sophomore.

“I was prepared for it, through all the practices and instructions from my coaches and the seniors,” he said. “They bring me right along and they have confidence in me, and that’s a big thing, and that they trust me to be out there on the court.”

Over the past few weeks Herenton has continued to prove his worth on this now veteran team. The increase in minutes has given him the opportunity to produce on both sides of the ball, dropping dimes to Okafor for tear the house down dunks and working hard on defense, pulling down rebounds despite his smaller stature. And with his performance now at an elevated level, the domino effect would be his confidence taking a positive hit.

“Every big game I’ve played, I’m just getting better and better. My confidence is going higher and I know what I can do as a player, so I’ll just continue to stay confident, play my role but I know I can do more, and do it. My confidence is through the roof right now and I’m playing well,” Herenton said in agreement.

Okafor has also seen the growth in the young sophomore’s game saying, “Yeah, he is playing really well. He is really doing what the coaches are asking of him which is playing hard, playing defense, controlling the team and ever since Anthony got hurt, he has been the point guard. This is his first year pretty much playing varsity at the point guard level so I’m really proud of him also. He did a great job defensively against Oak Hill. He really had a big part in us winning.

[RELATED: DRIVE: Miles Reynolds rising to the occasion]

Rolling off the wave of the big win in Massachusetts, the Dolphins faced an athletic Farragut team who unexpectedly gave them big problems the first time around as they hit three pointer after three pointer. But in another last-ditch effort, the veteran team pulled it together in a 19-point win Wednesday night. The team however did not approach the game with revenge in mind, but instead learned from their past mistakes and refused to let the same outcome happen yet again.

“Against Farragut, we sort of had a better feel for them this time. We knew what to expect. Our first time playing them we didn’t really know what to expect and we were just going through the motions,” Reynolds admitted. “But I loved the way the guys played against Farragut.”

Reynolds, who did not suit up the second time around, cheered on teammates from the bench after suffering an upper body injury against Oak Hill just two days prior.

“Ah, I guess Monday in Oak Hill, I suffered a chest injury, a contusion, so the doctor told me to sit out for a few days before coming back. Hopefully, I’ll be able to play Saturday,” he said of the upcoming matchup against Southwind High School in Memphis, Tennessee.

[MORE: DRIVE: Young regains national dominance]

With two wins to add to their undefeated 2014 record, the Dolphins loaded up on a cushy coach bus accompanied by friends and family to make the long nine-hour drive down South. The excursion includes the Whitney Young proud principal, Dr. Joyce Kenner, who was present at the college announcements of the trio of seniors, White, Reynolds, and Okafor. She also frequents many of the Dolphins’ games, showing her total commitment to the success of the team as well as their City and State Championship aspirations. 

“First I would like to say this is by far one of the best academically focused teams and I am honored to even be associated with this group of fine young men,” Dr. Kenner said speaking of the high marks the team has received both academically and athletically. “They are successful on the court but more importantly in the classroom.”

White added: “This trip to Memphis is always fun considering that we are able to take family members that normally wouldn’t go on these trips. You are able to take some of the younger guys on the sophomore level. It is just fun because it is more like a team bonding thing as well as getting the chance to play the top teams in Memphis. So this trip is something I always look forward too.”

Remaining undefeated in 2014 is the goal of this Dolphins’ squad and as they make their trip to Memphis, bringing back yet another national win is the only objective.