By JUSTIN RAINS
By his own admission, Grapeland junior William Whitehead had a rough start to the Sandies regional semifinal game against Dallardsville Big Sandy Friday.
But, if that’s Whitehead’s biggest problem, he thinks he’ll be OK. After all, he gets to play basketball with his team.
That wasn’t the case earlier this season, when bad grades and a bad attitude forced the hand of GHS coach Owen Clifton.
“We had kicked him off early in the season and told him ‘If we can’t count on you it’s not going to happen,’” Clifton said after the Sandies’ 75-60 win over Big Sandy to clinch a spot in today’s regional final.
But, along the way, something clicked for Whitehead and, as Clifton put it, he “got passionate about it.”
He turned around both his attitude and his grades, and proved to his coach and his team that he was worthy of a spot on the bench.
“But, he never got a write-up, he passed every single class with a 75-or-above,” Clifton said. “That’s a success story.”
So, it was no surprise to Whitehead when, despite that rough first half, he was called on for significant minutes in the second half of the Grapeland win.
He made an impact as well. In place of star Patrick Walker, who had to sit late in the third quarter with foul trouble, Whitehead twice stole the ball and dunked in transition, helping Grapeland hold off the only serious run that Big Sandy put together all game.
Afterwards, Whitehead thanked God for letting him persevere and be with his team on this playoff run. He also expressed his gratitude toward his coach.
“This is only like my fourth or fifth game that I’ve played,” he said. “To have a coach like that that keeps believing in me, it’s awesome.”
As for Clifton, he put it rather simply.
“That’s why we coach. I don’t care how far we go, because that to me is fantastic,” the first-year coach said. “He’s got his head straight and now he’s looking at graduating and that’s what we want.”