Friday, February 13, 2015

Whiteside's Lin-like evolution, Birdman's Hustle Pacing Miami

 Hassan Whiteside With Team Frenji '09

As achingly cliche as it may sound, there is nothing more American than rooting for the underdog. 

Cliche or not, it is the time-endured truth. 

As Americans, we cherish the underdog.

We love the underestimated and the unsung.

The also-ran.

The forgotten-about recruit who plummeted down the cracks and landed at junior college somewhere in middle of Iowa or Texas, with grimy gas station meals and an outdoor movie theater the primary sources of entertainment.

We relish stories about the left-for-dead, city-to-city journeymen who simply refused to hang it up.

The athlete whose pro dreams would not wilt or wither, no matter the immense obstacles standing in the way.

No matter how many times cut. No matter how many times waived, no matter how many nights of exasperating bench splinters or D-League demotions or even tears.

 We tend to admire those who endured mentally-taxing setbacks and finally fled the darkness of obscurity.

Should they eventually thrive at the elite stage, streamlining a long struggle, a uniquely American brand of story is born. 

Thus, these background stories make our nation's most  heavily sought after and thoroughly appreciated sports icons. 

Such is the case with Hassan Whiteside's rapid evolution into the NBA's top-shelf.

Beyond becoming a necessary presence in the trenches, Whiteside has authored efficiency, hustle and the adequate rim protection necessary to supplement Chris "Birdman" Andersen.

The Bird displayed promise with a 10-point performance (including his third 3-pointer of the season) in Monday night's 109-95 dispatching of the dismal New York Knicks. This Heat team, however, has crumpled under an avalanche of injuries.

 Carmelo Anthony, who will likely shut it down for this historically putrid Knicks season following the All-Star break, paced New York with 26 points.

Whiteside possesses big soft hands and understands his limitations offensively.

He additionally gives Chris Bosh--who appeared to be reviving his Toronto heyday with a vintage 32-point performance--the freedom to stretch out the floor and stroke from beyond the confines of the arc.

Whiteside has added a feathery 15-foot jumper to his toolshed. 

Who is this kid? Where did he come from? 

A second round pick out of Marshall in 2010, nabbed 33rd overall by the Sacramento Kings, Whiteside's unpredictable journey ride appears to be over.

He spent time with the Reno Bighorns, Sioux Falls Skyforce, and most recently the Iowa Energy of the NBA D-League. His journey-ride over the waters included stops in China and Lebanon. 

Whiteside played at the Patterson school in North Carolina. He was raised in hardscrabble, hard-hitting Newark. The son of former Tampa Bay Bucs and Minnesota Vikings defensive end Hasson Arbubakrr, Whiteside spent the 2006-07 campaign at East Side (N.J.),

While spindly and rough-around-the edges initially, he developed his way into a monstrous interior presence who averaged 18 points, 10 boards, and 5.5 blocks per game.

His play earned mega hounding from Seton Hall. Then-coach Bobby Gonzalez and Derm Player implemented considerable powers of persuasion to keep him local.

Whiteside, his would-be suitors reminded him, would have the opportunity to play  alongside Jeremy “The Cab Driver” Hazell, Eugene Harvey, and eventually Fuquan Edwin.

Also a product of the Patterson School, Hazell was a 2,000+ scorer at the Hall. Yet Hazell, who possessed deft shooting ability from NBA range, was part of an era stained by high-risk, high-reward recruits.

At the time, the Big East was the nation's elite conference, with NBA potential sprinkled across roster after roster.

Back to the future….

Just what has Whiteside been doing in Miami this winter, collecting double-doubles with consistency?

He's proving that with battle-tested resolve and an inner X-factor, one which refuses to let the competitive nature dwindle, the road to success is still a viable route. 

Whiteside took full advantage of his golden opportunity against Chicago weeks ago, turning in a “Triple Dozen” performance of 14 points, 13 rebounds, and an astonishing 12 blocks. 

Whiteside’s knack for safeguarding the rim surfaced throughout, his proclivity for altering and influencing and manipulating and changing the trajectory of shots would close down Chicago’s driving lanes quicker than a nightmarish accident on I-95.

The ramped up dose of upfront strength resulted in a convincing 96-84 win over the Bulls. It was, at this point, Whiteside’s signature moment as an NBAer.

It was the perfect storm. Just when the hype surrounding Whiteside reached its zenith, the kid delivered this for-the-ages showing.

And that right there, folks, is why we Americans relish underdog stories.

We live in the land of unrivaled opportunity. Sports are merely indicative of our country’s everlasting freedoms.

 On any given moment, the underdog can rise up and re-script the pages of history.

Without us even anticipating it or seeing it creep up in the rearview. 

Have we seen Whiteside’s story in the NBA before?

You surely recall the “LINSANITY” experience that had New York City buzzing out of control.

That brief experience catapulted once-unheralded point guard Jeremy Lin to international fame. 

Practically overnight, that is.

The timing and placing of LINSANITY, it’s eerily similar.

Akin to the Whiteside situation, New York was in dire need of a pick-me-up player at a particular position.

 Heck, they were in dire need of a basketball deity capable of pulling them out of the gutter.

 With Carmelo Anthony nursing an injury and Amar’e Stoudemire dealing with battered knees, the hope was shrinking and collapsing at a quick sand-like rate.

As it seemed, Mike D'Antoni would be another wounded warrior in the Juvenile Hall Knife Fight that has been Jim Dolan's disastrous career.

Tony Douglas, New York’s then-point guard, was wrecked by inconsistency issues.

  Lin’s arrival pumped a level of excitement New York hadn’t witnessed since the “basketbrawl” team of Patrick Ewing, the mercurial yet ultra-rugged John Starks, Charles Oakley, Anthony Mason (in our thoughts and prayers and hopes today), Greg Anthony, and Hubert Davis.

If we can remember correctly, The Jeremy Lin show began with a 28-point, eight assist performance in his first start against the Utah Jazz.

 This was prior to a 25-point, seven-assist performance that long frustrated Knicks fans barely even knew what to make of.

LINSANITY was the perfect spark to reignite a left-for-kill organization.

 Lin rebuilt the pick-and-roll game, lobbing up alley oop passes for Tyson Chandler and high-rising Landry Fields.

 He helped Steve Novak become the quick-strike 3-point shooter that he is, finding him from beyond the arc and on the corners.

He was a spanking new, God-fearing character, a choir boy-like basketball savior who the burgeoning Chinese basketball culture carried a torch proudly for.

The New York media went into a craze. Jersey sales for Lin jumped through the ceiling.

 The rampant media scrutiny and hard-but-fair NYC fans can be overbearing during the pitfalls of a putrid season.

Winning, of course, results in the complete and utter opposite. Going from a downtrodden, dungeon dwelling team to the realm of respectability is akin to going from a free-falling torment to the tournament.

With Lin's celebrity status blossoming and the Universe tuning in, the quick-driving undrafted guard out of Harvard continued to deliver.

A 38-point masterwork against Kobe Bryant at the Garden muted some of the critics, many of whom felt Lin’s eruption was a fluke.

Lin was threading into the lane, carving his way to the rim and revving up the Garden crowd.

The Kobe game was Lin’s “it” moment.

 It was the ultimate proving ground for a guy who still needed to solidify his status as a gamer, fending off all harbingers of a wild fluke.

 Many analysts and pundits were quick to chart evident holes in his game prior to that performance.

Some said he lacked a consistent jumper and had entirely no 3-point game.

They had Lin pegged as a jarringly vulnerable defensive liability and wouldn’t be able to sustain this run. They said he needed to prove his worth against real competition before this “Linsanity" craze could be validated.

The Linsanity experience leaked into a marquee home game against Dallas. Lin dropped 28 points and dished out 14 assists.

He made every possible big play down the stretch, including a steal and electrifying lob pass to Chandler for a loud, emphatic dunk that sent the Garden into a frenzy.

Ultimately, the thrill-factor of Lin’s dynamic winter was short-lived. He was exposed against the Nets, as Deron Williams burnt him to the tune of 38 points. 

During a litmus test at Miami, Lin was tossing the rock all over Ocean Drive with a horrific eight turnovers.

 He shot an arctic 1-for-11 from the field, proving good things don’t last long and the window for greatness is tighter than a Ziplock bag in this league. 

Lin did finally come down to earth. There’s no argument that this spurt of greatness made his career.

Now, the question once hanging over Lin’s head translates to Whiteside’s ascension in South Florida…

Will Whiteside sustain this? Will he extend this throughout the year and not the 1-2 month period which Lin did (his game and the role has never been the same).

 Will the bubble finally pop? Surely, he’s not under the same pressure and demand to produce as Lin in New York’s hothouse environment.

Ultimately, the key characteristic both Lin and Whiteside exemplified was extended perseverance.


All it took was a nifty no-look pass to Loul Deng. 

That assist, rather flashy for a sturdy and workmanlike 6-foot-10 banger of Chris “Birdman” Andersen’s type, stirred the Bird to high-flying power in Monday night’s Knicks mauling. 

The Bird flew all over the court, igniting Miami with an aerial game fans are eager to see more of.

Andersen emphatically punched home a pair of alley oops while applying straitjacket-esque defense, handcuffing the once-prosperous Stoudemire in the paint.

Blocking and manipulating shots down low, you could feel Tony Falce’s adrenaline spike in the stands. Falce, the widely-recognized Master Professional Personal Trainer and currently sharpening up myriad Division-I prospects at Elev8 in Delray Beach, is the Bird’s trainer and his most loyal, ardent advocate. 

Yet  Falce's ties to Anderson go beyond that. He’s known him before the stardom, before the fanfare, before this country boy littered in funky tattoos became one of Miami’s favorite sons.

Andersen, out of Iola, Texas (born in Long Beach, Calif.) is quite the NBA anomaly.

The tattoos, enabling his body to double as a human museum, have the Bird pigeonholed in the Badboy image of names such as Rodman, Laimbeer, Artest, White Chocolate.

His rap sheet, stained and dented by undisclosed violations of the NBA’s drug policy, have the Bird misconstrued as an enforcing, lawless thug.

A Wildman injecting partyboy flair into the league? Hardly. 

A drug-addled biker capable of smoking and snorting even JR Rider or Rasheed Wallace under the table?

Not even close.

An introvert regarding his personal life, rather demure about an unlikely journey from Blinn Community College (Tx) to the IBL to the D-League to one of the NBA’s hottest stages in sizzling South Florida, the Bird has evolved into an ultra-marketable commodity. He's currently the poster boy of Hard Rock energy drink. 

 Now expanding his game with a deeper jumper and flashy passes, the Bird's had a loud impact on a team enhancing its front court.