Powers North Central junior - Boys Basketball
Whitens has played his share of big games as quarterback of this school year’s MHSAA 8-player football champion and leading scorer on the basketball team that won the Class D title in 2015 with a perfect record. North Central’s 39-game winning streak was on the line as the Jets trailed Class B Menominee by six points with eight minutes to play Feb. 9. The 6-foot-5 Whitens earned the Michigan National Guard “Performance of the Week” by scoring 11 of his game-high 31 points during the fourth quarter, including the go-ahead layup with seven seconds left as North Central held on for a 64-60 win.
North Central has since extended its winning streak to 42 straight with a 15-0 start to this winter. Whitens averages 24 points, seven rebounds and six assists per game, making 57 percent of his shots from the floor and 78 percent of his free-throw attempts – all while playing an average of 25 minutes and taking only 15 shots per game for a team outscoring opponents 76-39 on average. He’s scored more than 1,100 points in leading North Central to a combined 67-1 record over his first three seasons.
In addition to earning the Associated Press’ 8-player Player of the Year honor in the fall after throwing 45 touchdown passes without an interception, Whitens also plays outfield for the baseball team and high jumps and runs the 400, 800 and on a relay for the track & field team during the spring. Whitens carries a 3.8 grade-point average and is considering a career in marketing. He has a Division II basketball scholarship offer, with Division I programs also interested.
Coach Adam Mercier said: “Players of Jason’s caliber tend to be the focal point on offense by getting shots up, whereas Jason finds the open man and doesn’t worry about individual statistics. He can play any of the five positions on the floor with his size and is a tremendous ball handler capable of running the point position. His athleticism is off the charts, as noticed on the football field being a two-time all-state player at quarterback and wide receiver. Jason is one of the best open court players I’ve ever seen as he has the ability to quickly process all possible options and then either dunk it (he has 12 this season) or make an on-point pass to a teammate. He is a very humble young man who doesn’t let success get to his head. Jason is always willing to help out young students who want to work on their game. My two sons look up to him, along with the other outstanding young men who represent our team. He sets a great example of what being a true student-athlete is all about.”
Performance Point: “Going into the fourth (quarter), I knew I had to step up, being down by 10 to a very good team. But we knew from our past experiences – we’ve got experience in big games, close games – that we had to pull together and get the win. We’re all big competitors in practice and in school, even hanging out. That’s the competitive nature we have, and that just translates to the game.”
42 straight and counting: “We’re just all out here having fun ... and when you’re winning, it makes it 10 times better. We just like to have fun with each other. We’ll have bigger things in life as we go along than a football or basketball game. (So) we just go out, do the best we can, and play the sport we love.”
Multi-sport master: “It’s something I’ve done since I was little. I just love playing sports, going out there with my best friends and just competing. We’re all competitive, and that’s the best part – going out and having fun. Morgan Cox … came here freshman year. (Otherwise,) every single one of us has been playing with each other since third and fourth grade. We all know what we like to do on the court, know what spots we like to be in. Each and every one has got my back, and I’ve got theirs.”
Everyone has a part: “We all have our specific roles. We have the jokesters; we’re all pretty funny, or we like to think we’re funny. We know when to get each other up. There’s not a guy that won’t make the other person better. We’re all close-knit, and when the time comes I like to step up, get everybody going. I fall into that leadership role.”
Learning from a leader: “I followed my cousin Rob (Granquist, the previous quarterback) into the leadership role. (He taught me) that whole, ‘Be cool and calm through anything.’ You can’t have ups and downs; you’ve got to stay even keel so when your teammates look at you, you’ve got to look back and let them know everything is all right.”
– Geoff Kimmerly, Second Half editor
Every week during the 2015-16 school year, Second Half and the Michigan National Guard will recognize a “Performance of the Week" from among the MHSAA's 750 member high schools.
The Michigan Army National Guard provides trained and ready forces in support of the National Military Strategy, and responds as needed to state, local, and regional emergencies to ensure peace, order, and public safety. The Guard adds value to our communities through continuous interaction. National Guard soldiers are part of the local community. Guardsmen typically train one weekend per month and two weeks in the summer. This training maintains readiness when needed, be it either to defend our Nation's freedom, or protecting lives and property of Michigan citizens during a local natural disaster.
Previous 2015-16 honorees
Feb. 10: Rachel Hogan, Grand Ledge gymnastics - Read
Feb. 3: Nehemiah Mork, Midland Dow swimming & diving - Read
Jan. 27: Mardrekia Cook, Muskegon girls basketball - Read
Jan. 20: Sage Castillo, Hartland wrestling - Read
Jan. 13: Rob Zofchak, Dexter swimming & diving - Read
Jan. 6: Tyler Deming, Caro wrestling – Read
Dec. 15: Jordan Weber, East Jordan boys basketball – Read
Dec. 8: Kaitlyn Geers, Kent City girls basketball – Read
PHOTOS: (Top) North Central's Jason Whitens launches a jumpshot this season against Big Bay de Noc. (Middle) Whitens throws down one of his many dunks. (Photos courtesy of the Escanaba Daily Press.)
We are down to the final four weeks of this MHSAA boys basketball season – and while the entertaining part is detailed below in our regular Monday report, there’s some major data crunching underway behind the scenes as well.
Seeding the top two teams in every District requires thousands of data points – and a season-long process of collecting them all. More than 720 varsity teams are playing this winter, and we’re in the midst of a process of checking their schedules one by one – about a 24-hour task by itself to make sure all scheduled games are showing, league standings are set up correctly, etc.
Additionally, daily we’re sorting through disputed scores, changes to schedules because of weather or teams that have discontinued their seasons, and other adjustments. But we’re always striving for perfection – and when Districts are drawn and those top teams seeded Feb. 26, we hope to have every schedule up to date and every score filled in.
Week in Review
The countdown of last week’s five most intriguing results:
1. North Farmington 68, Muskegon 55 These two have lived at or near the top of Division 1 MPR all season, making this win by the Raiders (12-1) at the 2K23 Showcase at Aquinas College arguably their best, especially considering it also was the first loss for the Big Reds (13-1).
2. Saline 57, Ann Arbor Huron 47 The Hornets (11-4) saw an eight-game winning streak end three days later, but in this one handed Huron (13-1) its lone defeat of the season.
3. Ann Arbor Huron 67, Benton Harbor 55 The River Rats, meanwhile, rebounded immediately with a 13-point win over Dexter and then a 67-55 victory over Benton Harbor (13-3) at Aquinas.
4. Warren Lincoln 52, Grand Rapids Northview 37 The Abes (12-3) just keep impressing, this time with a big win over a Northview team matching their 12-3 record, also during the 2K23 Showcase.
5. Iron Mountain 64, Powers North Central 58 This matched arguably the best in the Upper Peninsula in Divisions 3 and 4, respectively, with the Mountaineers moving to 13-1 and the Jets to 11-2.
With an eye toward March, here are two teams in each division making sparks:
Detroit U-D Jesuit (14-2) The Cubs have won outright or shared the last two Detroit Catholic League Central championships, and they’re hoping to run that streak to three by winning Friday’s rematch with first-place Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice (14-1). A 68-53 defeat to the Warriors on Jan. 24 and a 67-64 loss to Orchard Lake St. Mary’s on Jan. 6 have left Jesuit a game back, but the Cubs do have a sweep of reigning Division 1 champion Warren De La Salle Collegiate plus early impressive nonleague wins over Clarkston and Ferndale.
Kalamazoo Central (13-2) After just missing the Division 1 Semifinals a year ago – losing to Northview by two in a Quarterfinal – the Maroon Giants are ahead of their 16-win pace from that finish with their only losses to Brother Rice and Battle Creek Lakeview (11-3), the latter by a point. They also defeated Lakeview in the teams’ first meeting, handed Mattawan its only loss and most recently defeated Detroit Renaissance at the 2K23 event.
Ferndale (7-6) Few if any have played a tougher schedule, especially considering Ferndale is Division 2 playing most of the Division 1 powers. The Eagles are No. 5 in Division 2 MPR despite a 1-5 start including losses to Brother Rice, Jesuit, St. Mary’s and Muskegon, and then a two-point loss to North Farmington last week. Meanwhile, Ferndale has defeated Grosse Pointe South (13-3), Flint Beecher (12-3), Clarkston (11-5) and River Rouge (10-5). The North Farmington rematch is Feb. 24, and a Feb. 11 matchup with Port Huron Northern should also boost MPR.
Grand Rapids Christian (10-4) The Eagles may be in fourth in the Ottawa-Kent Conference White, but they are No. 6 in Division 2 MPR. Three of the four losses were to league opponents, but Christian is coming off a 55-53 double-overtime win over Warren Michigan Collegiate (13-2) on Saturday at Aquinas. An early win over Grand Rapids Catholic Central and a Jan. 21 victory over De La Salle also stand out.
Flint Beecher (12-3) The Bucs are off to another big start after last season’s finish at the Division 3 Semifinals, losing only to Detroit Cass Tech (17-0), Benton Harbor and Ferndale as Beecher also has loaded up its nonleague schedule. Beecher also has four wins over teams with double-digit victories, with an 80-71 defeat of Flint Hamady (14-2) on Jan. 10 putting the Bucs in first in the Genesee Area Conference Red. The Hamady rematch is Feb. 18, before a major regular-season finish against Goodrich (13-1) and Grand Blanc (14-2).
Napoleon (14-0) The Pirates aren’t sneaking up on anyone after going 19-3 last season, but they are dominating nonetheless. All but one win have been by eight points or more, and Napoleon leads the Cascades Conference after finishing second last year with a pair of losses to Vandercook Lake. The Pirates not only defeated Vandercook in their first meeting, by 40, but next defeated Michigan Center by 17 after the Cardinals ended their season last winter. Napoleon also has a 63-45 win over Big 8 Conference co-leader Concord.
Baldwin (13-1) The Panthers are coming off an 18-5 finish and second place in the West Michigan D League, and they lead it this time by two games and with a win over Mesick after losing both meetings to the eventual league champ a year ago. Baldwin also has avenged a 2021-22 loss to Mason County Eastern and could avenge another hosting Traverse City Christian on Tuesday. The Panthers also have given Marion (11-4) half its losses.
Powers North Central (11-2) As noted above, the Jets are at least among the handful of elite small-school Upper Peninsula teams, No. 4 in statewide Division 4 MPR although second in D4 in the U.P. with Painesdale Jeffers in the top spot. Those two wouldn’t see each other until a Regional Final, where North Central’s 19-5 run ended last season. The Jets only defeats this time are to Division 2 Kingsford and Division 3 Iron Mountain, which stand a combined 25-3.
Be on the lookout for results of these games coming up:
Tuesday – Goodrich (13-1) at Corunna (12-2) – They’re tied atop the Flint Metro League Stars with Goodrich winning the first meeting 69-54 on Jan. 10.
Friday – Detroit U-D Jesuit (14-2) at Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice (14-1) – As noted above, the Detroit Catholic League Central title will be on the line, as Jesuit can force a shared championship.
Saturday – Hamtramck (10-5) vs. Kalamazoo Central (13-2) at Benton Harbor – The Cosmos have faced their share of statewide elite as well, and will be seeking what would be one of their most notable wins in this Wilson Chandler Shootout matchup.
Saturday – Flint Hamady (14-2) at Davison (10-5) – Old rivals meet again as Davison is coached by longtime Beecher leader Mike Williams.
Saturday – Saginaw Arthur Hill (7-9) at Saginaw (14-4) – They’ll still have 2023-24 left before one the best rivalries in state history ends with a school merger, but this year’s rematch comes after Saginaw won 57-55 on Jan. 14.
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PHOTOS (Top) A Saginaw player gets to the rim during Friday's 59-54 loss to Mount Pleasant. (Middle) A Montabella player goes to the basket during his team's 43-28 win last week over Carson City-Crystal.(Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)