Having to select in between 2 sports is among the hardest choices that young, gifted, multi-faceted professional athletes might discover themselves dealing with at an early age. It’s a choice that winds up having life-long ramifications. For some, it’s the very first of numerous challenging choices in their young athletic professions. For Dariq Whitehead, however, the intermediate school choice to select in between basketball or football went even much deeper than that.
In his case, it had to do with selecting to continue a household custom or not. The Whiteheads were referred to as a football household through and through. All of Dariq’s older brother or sisters played football. In reality, his sibling Tahir delighted in a nine-year profession in the NFL as a linebacker with the Detroit Lions, Oakland Raiders and Carolina Panthers. Yet, Dariq eventually opted for his heart and picked hoops rather.
“My [youth] coach Hass [Hassan Nix], I call him my uncle, he put the basketball in my hands. Never had no intentions of playing basketball until one day he said, You should come try out and see how you like it,” Dariq remembers. “I went to see how I liked it; it was cool. I kept going back, and that’s just when I started to like basketball. Since then, I’ve always thanked him for helping me pick which sport I was going to do.”
An even harder choice was available in 8th grade when Whitehead chose to leave his home town of Newark, NJ, behind and transfer to Florida—alone. At just 13 years of ages, the 6-6 wing left friends and family after choosing to register at Montverde Academy—a nationwide basketball powerhouse whose alumni consisted of D’Angelo Russell and Ben Simmons. The relocation enabled him to use a nationwide schedule while likewise putting him in a unique position to establish along with a variety of future NBA draft choices. At the Orlando school, Whitehead’s colleagues have actually consisted of RJ Barrett, Cade Cunningham, Scottie Barnes, Moses Moody, Day’Ron Sharpe, Filip Petrusev and Balsa Koprivica—all of whom have actually been prepared in the last number of years.
“I can definitely say that was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made in my life,” includes Whitehead, now a luxury senior hire himself. “Just being far from my household, I was so utilized to being with them every day. Just decreasing there resembled a disrespectful awakening. I needed to clean my own clothing. I needed to be on my own. Just discovered how to generally make it through on my own—when to consume, things like that, simply time management. So I can absolutely state that was among the hardest choices I’ve ever made, however I’m happy that I did make it. It made me into the individual I am today.
“When I realized that I was a top recruit, it was my 10th grade year on the team with Cade, Scottie, Moses and them guys, and I was actually getting big-time minutes, playing 17 minutes a game. That’s when I realized, Alright, if I can play on this team, I feel like I got a shot to keep going and play anywhere I want.”
If there was one choice that wasn’t too difficult to make (fairly speaking), it seems his college one. He was believing beyond basketball when considering all the factors to select Duke over Florida State, Kansas or the G League. On the wood, however, he’ll comprise a historical class at Duke—the very first class after the death of the torch from the famous Coach K to his follower Jon Scheyer.
“It was a lifetime decision—after basketball, it can help me. Just the relationship I had with the coaches and kids on campus. The campus was a great place, kind of reminded me of Montverde,” remembers Whitehead. “Beginning a new era with Coach Scheyer, I feel like Duke is going to remain the same. It’s still going to be Duke. Nothing is gonna change but the coach. I feel like he’s the coach that can come in and get the job done.”
It hasn’t all been rosy for Dariq, however. In 2019, regardless of his stock increasing while having fun with the most talent-laden hoops program in the country, he was cut from the U.S.A. U16 National Team that was headed to the FIBA Americas in Brazil that spring. The group’s choice ended up being a turning-point minute for him and sustained the fire that has actually resulted in him ending up being the No. 5 ranked possibility in the Class of 2022.
“Honestly, that was the first time in my life where I felt rejected,” confesses Whitehead. “Talking to [Montverde head coach Kevin Boyle], he actually said, obviously, he and myself thought I should’ve made the team, but when I look back on it, that was the best thing that happened to me. He saw my work ethic change in practice, he saw how dedicated I got to the game, how many hours I was putting in the gym outside of practice. He told me, That was the best thing that happened to you, as crazy as it sounds. I changed. I started not wanting to be rejected again or be left out of anything.”
Portraits by Luther Schlaifer.