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Nets introduce Whitehead to hometown crowd

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The Nets added a bit of hometown flair to the roster on June 28, when the team formally introduced second-round draft pick and Brooklyn native Isaiah Whitehead with a ceremony in Coney Island.

Surrounded by family, friends and a handful of fans, Whitehead held up his brand-new Brooklyn jersey, smiling as his dreams of becoming a professional basketball player came true.

Whitehead grew up in Surfside Gardens, a mile from the Nets Boardwalk-adjacent team store. He’s had a few days to come to terms with being the 42nd overall pick in this year’s draft, but the former Lincoln standout had to admit it was all still a bit surreal.

“It probably won’t sink in until I’m on the Barclays floor and looking around and seeing family and friends in the crowd,” he said. “When I know I’m in Brooklyn and playing, that’s probably when it’ll all sink in.”

Whitehead will make his on-court debut with the team’s summer-league squad later this month, competing against other draft picks and players looking to sign as free agents.

It will be the first true test for Whitehead, and one he’s anxious to pass.

“I want to win,” he said. “I want to win every game with my teammates and really build that chemistry that we need for this season.”

Whitehead played multiple positions in the backcourt during his two seasons at Seton Hall, but Brooklyn is focused on turning the former combo-guard into more of a pure point guard. In fact, it was Whitehead’s ball-handling ability that motivated the Nets to trade up for him in this year’s draft.

“What really attracted me to him, personally, was his passing ability,” said first-year Nets coach Kenny Atkinson. “I was very impressed, especially in the pick and roll, how he can make different reads. We’re excited about that.”

Atkinson also said he was impressed by a one-on-one discussion he had with Whitehead prior to the draft, listening to the first-team All-Big East player list off the aspects of his game he wanted to improve.

“I was really surprised by — with the success he’s had at the college level and high school level — his humility,” Atkinson said. “He didn’t want to tell me how good he was — he wanted to tell me what he was working on. I loved that about him.”

The organization has spent the better part of the last week hyping up Whitehead’s return to Brooklyn. He’s become the face of the future for borough pro basketball — a hometown hero ready to spark a young team.

Whitehead isn’t letting any of that go to his head. He just wants to play to the best of his ability, and if he can do that while wearing a Brooklyn uniform, even better.

“I mean, I’ve been hearing about pressure my whole life,” he said. “It’s just basketball. It’s about going out there and just playing and having fun. I believe if I do that, everything will work out for itself.”

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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