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A Successful Summer : Nogales Cager Changed His Position, Recruiters Changed Their Minds

Times Staff Writer

After his junior season at Nogales High in La Puente, Major Whitlock was hardly considered a major-college prospect at point guard by college basketball recruiters.

The 6-1 and 185-pound Whitlock hadn’t played point guard until midway through last season when he was dropped from the varsity to the junior varsity.

Until then, Whitlock had spent most of his playing time as a forward.

But the fortunes of the 17-year-old Whitlock changed dramatically when he concentrated on playing point guard last summer.

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First, he made a good showing against many of the top players in Southern California at the Slam ‘N Jam summer league at Compton College and Dominguez High.

“On his own and against my wishes, Major went down to play Slam ‘N Jam, but he played well against some of the top guards in the L.A. area,” Nogales Coach Mike Southworth recalled.

“He was one of the biggest guards out there and it was obvious that he had developed his skills.”

Whitlock made an even bigger impression when he participated with many of the top players on the West Coast at the annual Superstars Invitational Camp last July at UC Santa Barbara.

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The most difficult part for Whitlock was receiving an invitation to the camp. Teammate Corey Rogers was the only Nogales player to receive an invitation at first.

“I asked my coach about the Superstars and the coach was just sending Corey at the time,” Whitlock said. “But I asked my coach and he just took it from there.”

As it turned out, Whitlock emerged as one of the biggest surprises at the camp and was listed among the top 15 players.

“My goal was to repeat what my brother (Marvin) did--make the top 80,” he said. “But when they called my name that I made the top 15 I was surprised. I was happy.”

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That also marked the end of Whitlock’s obscurity as a high school player.

After the camp, Whitlock said he received letters of interest from at least 23 major colleges and about six were seriously interested.

The attention was new to Whitlock, who wasn’t accustomed to the spotlight.

“It was brand new when it all started happening,” said Whitlock, who wound up signing with the University of Montana during the NCAA’s early signing period in November. “The letters started coming every day. Most people (who are recruited) take at least a week to get back the questionnaires, and when I first got them I’d run out and send them back the next day.

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“For most people, when all this happens they come in (to high school) as stars and get pulled up to the varsity as freshmen. For me, all of this happened in a second. It’s been like overnight.”

Whitlock’s high school basketball career didn’t exactly get off to a fast start.

In fact, when he entered Nogales Whitlock was cut from the freshman team.

“When he was a freshman he wasn’t good enough to make our top 15 freshmen,” Southworth said. “But he had a lot of desire so we kept him for our sophomore team.”

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Added Whitlock: “I actually got cut from the freshman team but because my brother was here they put me on the sophomore team. From what I’ve heard, I wasn’t really in their plans at all.”

Once he made the squad, Whitlock took advantage of his opportunity. He was a part-time starter on the sophomore team as a freshman and started for the junior varsity as a sophomore before moving up to the varsity for part of last season.

Whitlock started last year at forward before switching to point guard midway through the season. But the switch to point guard didn’t exactly take him by surprise.

“My brother told me even though you play forward work on your skills as a point guard because of your height,” he said. “So I’ve worked on the side as a point guard. The hardest thing is the mental aspects of being a point guard, but I’m starting to get them down better.”

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Since playing full time at point guard on the varsity this season, Whitlock has averaged about 7.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 7.5 assists.

“Every game I can see myself getting a little more confident in the position,” he said. “I can see I’m not supposed to score 20 points a game, but I’m finally getting into the mold that I’m supposed to be in.”

Southworth said that Whitlock’s success is partly attributable to the Nogales program, which has a strong emphasis on discipline.

“We have dedicated coaches with an emphasis on discipline and we expose our players to a lot of game time,” he said. “They understand that time is the main factor in us getting good.”

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The coach says there is no doubt that Whitlock has taken the time to improve his game.

“We have an open gym from noon to 9 at night and he’s always there,” Southworth said. “He just loves the game.”

During the summer, Whitlock said he spends nearly every waking hour working out or playing basketball. “I’m usually doing something that’s basketball-related from 7 in the morning to 11 at night.”

After the season, Whitlock says he comes home from school for a brief time before returning to practice. “Instead of going home and watching TV or sitting around, I go out and work on my game.”

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Whitlock’s rigorous practice schedule doesn’t stop even in the rain.

“Not to brag or anything, but even if it rains I go out and work on my game,” he says. “You can play in the rain.”

Southworth credits Whitlock’s hard work to the strong discipline he has received from his family.

“The No. 1 thing about Major, which is the reason he has had this success, is he has a strong family,” Southworth said.

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“It’s a close family,” said Whitlock, whose brother Marvin was an All-San Gabriel Valley player for Nogales last season and is a freshman at Mt. San Antonio College. “Playing basketball you have to be disciplined, and I grew up in a disciplined family.

“A lot of the time I didn’t want to play basketball. I wanted to go out and party but they wouldn’t let me. I’m not looking for the rewards right now, but I know that in time it will come by putting in the effort.”

Just as it has been at Nogales, Whitlock doesn’t expect instant success when he attends Montana next season.

“Naturally I think my skills are there and it depends on how hard I want to work at it,” he says. “If I put a lot into it, in a couple of years I’ll be heard from up there.”

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If hard work is all it takes, Whitlock doesn’t figure to have any problems.


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