Braiden Whitaker traded sunshine for snow, oceans for Great Lakes and year-round football for basketball.
Despite not playing organized basketball until seventh grade, the Dundee senior has evolved into a 6-foot-5 beast on the basketball court and has the Vikings 13-1 and ranked sixth in the state.
“The passion he plays with is infectious to everyone around him,” said Dundee coach Jay Haselschwerdt. “He brings a lot of enthusiasm to the team. The other players feed off that.”
Whitaker has been outstanding all season, but never better than his record-setting performance last week for the Vikings at home in a nonleague game against Monroe Jefferson.
Whitaker came into the game needing 36 points to reach 1,000 for his career. In the fourth quarter, he started getting close. His teammates kept getting him the ball.
“It was a great feeling,” he said. “I couldn’t have done it without my teammates. They helped me out. I started off bad in the first quarter, so I knew in the second half it was time to go.”
Haselschwerdt said Whitaker’s teammates were cheering him on down the stretch.
“As he got closer, the team really wanted him to get to 1,000,” he said. “Hats off to Braiden and hats off to the team for being okay with that. It was a very special night.”
When Whitaker got his 1,000th point, he got emotional. He teared up as coaches, teammates and family recognized his accomplishment.
“It meant a lot to him,” Haselschwerdt said.
Only, he wasn’t done. After hitting another shot and converting a three-point play, he was only a couple buckets shy of the school’s single-game scoring record of 43 points. He got that a minute later, finishing with 44 in the 72-63 victory.
Dundee needed every one of Whitaker’s points to hold off Jefferson. The Vikings started the game missing one starter and during it lost two more to injuries. Jefferson scored 30 points in the fourth quarter and kept the game close.
“When you are 13-1, you are going to get everyone’s best shot,” Haselschwerdt said. “We know that. The kids have stepped up and adjusted their game.”
No one has adjusted his game more than Whitaker.
He grew up in Jacksonville, Fla., where football is king.
“Football is crazy there,” Whitaker said. “You play football year-round. Everyone does. That’s what I did. I was really into flag football at that time.”
In the seventh grade, however, Whitaker’s family moved to Michigan.
“We had family in the area,” he said. “Most of my mom’s family is from the area. My aunt moved into Dundee about a year before we moved up here. I didn’t know much about Michigan. I remember we were looking for a school to go to, and we chose Dundee.”
Whitaker never gave up football. In the fall he was one of the top receivers in Monroe County and has made a couple of unofficial college visits to schools wanting him to play football at the next level. Right now, his options remain open.
“We’re glad he’s here,” Haselschwerdt said. “He wants to go to college in Michigan. He’s got a great friend group. He’s a big part of Dundee life. He is kind of a rock star. Everybody knows him.”
Haselschwerdt said Whitaker has worked hard to rise to this level.
“Basketball wasn’t something he’s dominated since in the seventh grade,” the coach said. “He’s worked on his game. He’s grown by leaps and bounds. He’s become a great player, but it was a lot of hard work.”
Whitaker debuted on the Vikings varsity as a sophomore, averaging 10.1 points per game. Last year he increased that average to around 18 ppg and led the Vikings to a District championship by scoring 12 of his team's last 17 points in a 53-51 win over Ida, including a thrilling dunk in the final moments that sent the Dundee crowd into a frenzy. They mobbed him on the court after the win.
“Everyone loves him,” Haselschwerdt said. “His teammates, the students, the fans. Even the community. He’s that kind of kid. The community has embraced him.”
The previous single-game scoring record had stood since 1959. With this season just past the halfway point, Whitaker has his sights set on a league title, a long tournament run and, possibly, more records.
“Everyone likes breaking records,” Whitaker said. “It was a great feeling to accomplish that."
Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Dundee’s Braiden Whitaker throws down a thunderous dunk. (Middle) Whitaker, left, with Dundee coach Jay Haselschwerdt. (Top photo by Mike Doughty; middle photo courtesy of the Dundee boys basketball program.)