Boys basketball

Calumet's Whitehead is the Warriors' comeback kid

2014-01-16T20:00:00Z 2014-01-17T21:10:17Z Calumet's Whitehead is the Warriors' comeback kidSteve Hanlon steve.hanlon@nwi.com, (219) 933-4198 nwitimes.com
January 16, 2014 8:00 pm  • 

CALUMET TWP. | Everything was going well. Super. Fantastic to the seventh power.

Javonta Whitehead's life was rolling so well he had to pinch himself every other day. The honor roll student was eating books like ice cream. The budding basketball star was playing big minutes on a national-level AAU team.

He had trophies for winning speech and debate contests, too. Then, fifth grade happened and everything changed.

"My mom had a heart transplant," Whitehead said. "She died a couple days after the surgery."

Mardelia Whitehead and her son were very close. The senior at Calumet fondly remembers a trip to Kings Island where all the joys of childhood were shared with the woman who gave him life.

"It was awesome," Whitehead said after Wednesday's practice. "I remember I couldn't ride the roller coaster."

That amusement park ride aptly describes what happened to the 6-foot-4 guard. After his mother's passing, the music stopped playing.

"I gave up," Whitehead said. "I didn't want to play. I didn't care about anything."

That's what first-year Warriors boys basketball coach Matt Justin found when he arrived on Ridge Road. He was an assistant at Muncie Central in 2005 and '06 when the Bearcats finished second both seasons in the Class 4A state championship game.

The graduate of Yorktown, who dressed as a freshman in the 1998 Class 3A state title game, found a lost, broken young man trying to find his way.

Whitehead was like the Calumet program, lost and broken.

The Warriors were 2-19 in Justin's first year there, Whitehead's sophomore season. They went 6-16 last year, which was like a slightly better-tasting lima bean.

"The culture here was a loser's culture," Justin said. "The kids didn't even realize it, but it was there. They make fun of me when I bring up Muncie Central now."

Whitehead is averaging 11.3 points, 8.9 rebounds and three assists a game as the 7-1 Warriors travel to Lake Station for a big Greater South Shore Conference game tonight.

Justin hangs this start on one thing, Whitehead's game against Whiting on Dec. 17. Trailing by 14 with three minutes to play, Whitehead and his mates went on a run. He scored seven points in a span of 26 seconds to pull off the 68-67 win.

Whitehead finished with 27 points and 13 rebounds. He hugged his father, Raphael Whitehead, and thought about his mom after that thrilling the win.

"Last year we would've given up," Whitehead said. "That game gave me the confidence. I knew I could play up to my potential. My mom watched me play when I was younger.

"I know she would've been proud."

This is not a one-man show. Justin finally has a core of players who believe. They played 50 games in the summer working to raise the bar and stir up the echos at a school that used to be a power.

Junior Anthony Harris leads the way scoring 16.8 points a game. Senior Josh Borst is a 6-8 power in the paint. All the pieces are coming together.

These are the comeback kids.

"Javonta knew he had to shoot in (the Whiting) game because (Harris) fouled out," Justin said. "If we lost that game I don't know where we'd be. But the guys are starting to get it and it's fun."

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