COLUMBIA — Amid the instability of the Hickman boys basketball season, Marcus Whitt has stood out as the exception.
The Kewpies (7-14) have been erratic. They won six straight games sandwiched between even longer losing streaks. They outplay good teams for a half and still end up losing by double digits.
Then there is Whitt, a well-seasoned veteran in dealing with all things inconsistent.
The senior averages about 15 points a game and rarely deviates far from that number.
He will take a jumper two steps inside the arc over a 3-pointer. He doesn't disappear for long periods of time. If there’s a defensive breakdown or a mental error, the coaching staff can narrow it down to four possible culprits.
It wasn’t Whitt.
The fifth-seeded Kewpies open the Class 5 District 9 tournament against No. 4 Washington High School in Jefferson City on Monday at 5:30 p.m.. The winner will play top-seeded Rock Bridge.
For Hickman to succeed, Whitt’s teammates will need to buy into his mind-set: Their fate is not dependent on anything beyond themselves.
“You can’t go in wishing that something is just going to happen,” Whitt said. “You can’t worry about who the other team is, and you can’t hope you’ll get a good call or someone else is going to get a turnover. You have to go out there and take it.”
Whitt has played the foil to flashier but streaky teammates before. Last year he was there for Lyle Harris, a player who could score 20 points in one half and go scoreless in the other.
This year, junior guard Jordan Stevens has been that guy, capable of explosive performances as well as letdowns. On teammates' off-nights, Whitt's steadiness isn't always enough to win games, but it reassures head coach David Johnson that the groundwork is still there.
“Marcus is a kid I don’t worry about being up or down for a game because he’s always going to bring it,” Johnson said. “He’s a competitor, and the maturity is there.”
Senior Spenser Washington said Whitt leads by being outgoing and vocal but simultaneously masks his frustration by going quiet during the game. Afterward, Whitt is the one reassuring his teammates.
“He has said a lot of motivational stuff to keep us focused,” Washington said. “He says, ‘We’ll get them next game. Don’t let this hold us down because we still have more to play.'”
Johnson said the lack of consistency and chemistry can partly be blamed on injuries and eligibility issues. Forwards Ernest Dorema and Cecil Williams couldn't play until January because of academics.
Again, Whitt has proved reliable. He maintains a 3.0 GPA and said he tries to get as much of his work as possible done in school so he can spend more time playing basketball in the evening.
When Whitt isn't practicing at Hickman, he shoots hoops with his dad, Jim Whitt, the founder of the cPhase Sports Association in Columbia. Jim Whitt played at Indiana Institute of Technology and on the Indiana Pacers' rookie team.
Marcus Whitt said he gets all his moves from his dad.
In many ways, Jim Whitt has been his son's only constant coach. During Marcus Whitt's four seasons at Hickman, he has played for three different coaches: Ken Ash, John Burns and now Johnson. The turnover has prevented the upperclassmen from getting comfortable.
"When you're trying to get them to understand what you're trying to accomplish, it's not always going to happen as smoothly as you'd like," Johnson said. "They're at a stage now where they know they have a chance and have the ability to do it."
Marcus Whitt said it was tough transitioning from one coaching philosophy to another. But the team played well in the postseason under Burns last season (It lost in overtime to Holt in the district final.), and Whitt said he expects the same this week.
"(Coach Johnson and I) get each other," Whitt said. "It might have taken a little longer than it should have, but everyone has the same agenda now."
Johnson hopes so. He knows where Whitt stands, but still wonders: Do they want it?
"That’s the big question," he said. "There’s no doubt as far as athleticism and talent go. Now they have to put it all together. That’s what I’m trying to get them to understand."
Whitt said he plans on playing basketball in college, but he doesn't know where he is going yet. Besides listening to Al Green and other "old school" R&B music, Whitt is at a loss for words when thinking about other hobbies.
It has always been basketball and the comfort of routine.
"The basketball court is where I feel like I'm in my own little world," Whitt said. "All my worries go away. I could have trouble through the whole day, and right when I step on the court, all that goes away."
"It's a great feeling, especially when you win," Whitt said. "Then it's the best feeling ever."