In the end, persistency and confidence paid off for Braydon Whitaker.
The Slocomb basketball standout felt plenty of frustration at the lack of interest he was receiving from college basketball programs. Despite the few responses, he wouldn’t give up pursuing his dream of playing college basketball.
That persistent effort plus his consistent confidence in his abilities has made his dream a reality.
The RedTop senior committed Tuesday to play at LaGrange College, a Division III school in LaGrange, Ga. He plans to sign with the program within the next week.
“It feels good to finally find a place to play after emailing hundreds of colleges,” Whitaker said. “It feels good to finally find one I can play at.”
A two-time Class 3A ASWA All-State member and a two-time Dothan Eagle Super 12 honoree, Whitaker was one of the Wiregrass’ most prolific scorers the last two years, averaging 20.3 points a game as a junior and 18.7 points a game as a senior. He also earned 5.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.4 steals per game this past season for the RedTops, while finishing as one of the top free throw shooters in the area, hitting 76.6 percent of foul shots.
A versatile athlete, Whitaker was also quarterback for Slocomb’s football team and a shortstop on the baseball team this past academic year.
Slocomb head boys basketball coach Brett Singletary, who was also frustrated at the lack of interest in his star shooting guard, noted Whitaker’s height of 5-foot-11 may have been viewed by colleges as being too small for them. He expects Whitaker will use the colleges’ lack of interest as motivation for when he begins his career at LaGrange.
“I was actually surprised he didn’t garner more interest than he did,” Singletary said. “It definitely will be something that probably fuels him. Collegiately, maybe there is some thought he might be undersized — he is probably 5-11 — but his skill and knowledge of the game is something you don’t come across every day.
“I believe he will be successful. I am sure he will use it as fuel. Braydon is as competitive as it gets.”
Whitaker helped the RedTops basketball team to the Class 3A Elite Eight as a junior, delivering two clutch game-winning shots in the postseason, one against Pike County in a sub-regional game and another against Pike Road in the regional semifinals.
Overall, he helped Slocomb earn 35 wins over the last two years, 18-12 as a junior and 17-9 this past season.
Despite all that, many colleges didn’t recruit him, leading to his frustration. Starting after his junior season, he said he emailed “100 plus” colleges citing his desire to play and sending film to as well, mostly to junior colleges and Division III programs.
“It was frustrating at first because I emailed 100 plus colleges and I only got an email back from two or three, but I knew I could play at any of the colleges that I sent an email to,” Whitaker said. “That frustrated me and also how long it took. In the end, it all worked out, so that is all that matters.”
LaGrange became interested in Whitaker after Singletary sent film late in the season of the Slocomb guard to Panther coaches. Head coach Kendal Wallace and the Panther staff then reached out the week after the RedTops’ season ended and invited the senior to their campus for a visit.
During the early March visit, Whitaker had an opportunity to play with other Panther players. He left impressed with what he saw.
“I went and played a pick-up game and nobody on that team was selfish,” Whitaker said. “The team chemistry seemed like it was really, really good. Everybody played hard. Nobody ever not hustled. I think I will fit in well with their program.”
Enterprise State also expressed some interest, but Whitaker felt LaGrange players showed “more care” in him.
While he is mostly known for his prolific shooting — he hit 149 3-pointers over his final two seasons at a 40.4 percent rate — Whitaker believes he has strong abilities in other areas, especially on the offensive end.
“I feel like I am a shooter, primarily a shooter, but I can handle the ball and I feel like I am a good passer,” Whitaker said. “I can take care of the ball and I can drive to the basket when I need to, but mostly hitting shots when I need to hit shots.”
His coach agrees, but also feels Whitaker is an underrated defensive player too.
“He is a good defender, especially in man-to-man help defense like we run,” Singletary said. “A lot of the steals he had were not necessarily in 1-on-1 where he rips the ball away from the dribbler, but steals where he plays help defense in reading passes and other players. He is a student of the game, both offensively and defensively.”
Singletary noted the RedTop star improved on his defense during his final year. His steals per game increased from 1.4 as a junior to 2.4 as a senior.
“He stepped up his defense this year,” Singletary said. “He made that a point of emphasis.”
The Panther program isn’t just getting a great athlete, but a standout individual as well, stressed Singletary.
“I have been coaching four years and every year I have been here I have gotten to coach Braydon and see him in action. As good a scorer as he is and as good a basketball player he is, he is that good of a kid,” Singletary said. “He is high character. He does well off the court, in the classroom — just a very good kid. He will be successful in whatever he pursues.”