COLUMBIA – Jimmy Whitt, a guard on the Hickman boys basketball team, has plenty of experience being overmatched.
That might be surprising to learn after watching him play. But when he started playing one-on-one against his older brother, Marcus Whitt, before he started really growing, he would get stomped resoundingly.
Marcus Whitt saw his brother's talent early on and took that as a cue to “rough him up." The older brother used his superior speed and threw his body around.
“I never held back on him,” Marcus Whitt said. “Growing up, he always used to be able to handle bigger guys, make tough shots. … If I was pushing him, you know, he’d have to make the shot, even though I was fouling him.”
It's safe to say Jimmy Whitt can now put those losses behind him. The lanky sophomore has played a key role in the Kewpies' wildly successful season, acting as both point guard and scoring threat.
His shooting ability from inside and from 3-point range makes him a constant danger with the ball in his hands. His thin frame hides the ability to throw down powerful dunks. He is also a standout defensive player, using his long arms to grab steals and disrupt passes.
And with this breakout season, Jimmy Whitt is also expanding on his family's legacy.
Marcus Whitt also starred at Hickman. The older Whitt's aggressive mindset and sure touch with pull-up jumpers gave the Kewpies a leader. He earned all-district honors as a junior and senior.
“He (Marcus Whitt) was a very hard worker, determined, good motor, great pull-up jump shot, just really kind of gave everything he could. … He played with a lot of heart and passion,” Hickman coach David Johnson said.
Marcus Whitt went to Tennessee State, but his plans to walk on to the team there didn’t work out. He left after a year and now plays for Columbia College, the No. 1 team in the NAIA.
As children, the brothers learned basketball from their father. Jimmy Whitt is four years younger than his brother, but when Marcus Whitt would go work with his father, he was usually alongside, watching. They both learned to shoot the pull-up jumper from their father.
“That’s our bread and butter,” Marcus Whitt said. “I feel like we actually excel at that. That’s one of our favorite shots. I mean, that’s the shot that can win games for you.”
Although the brothers missed playing for the same Kewpies team by one year, Jimmy Whitt would hang around the gym during weekend practices to shoot around and watch the team go through its routine.
“Coming up, watching him play, I always wanted to go out there and play with him (Marcus),” he said. “And I always used to tell him, 'If we were one year closer, then when I was a freshman, we could’ve actually played together.'”
Jimmy Whitt said that Johnson sometimes mentions the resemblance between the brothers during practice, with the pull-up jumper usually being the cause. But after that, the differences between the two are readily apparent.
Jimmy Whitt is tall and long-armed. Marcus Whitt is significantly shorter than his brother and must place more emphasis on his speed. The younger brother excels in running the point and is more likely to stay back and let the game come to him. The older brother would more commonly play on the wing, basing his game on speed and scoring, though he said he has expanded his defensive and passing abilities since joining the Cougars.
Still, Marcus Whitt said that “at heart, he's (Jimmy) still a two,” given his brother’s knack for playing the shooting guard role.
Those differences in style of play helped Jimmy Whitt escape being stuck as “Marcus’ brother.” That thought went away soon after he started getting playing time for Hickman.
“Growing up, everybody was like, 'that’s Marcus’ little brother,' and I like how now I can really get out of his shadow and try to make my own,” he said.
The brothers’ supporting casts also account in large part for the differences between them. Marcus Whitt had to look to score more often for the sake of his team, which finished 8-15 his senior year.
Jimmy Whitt, however, can pick from scoring threats such as junior guard Chris Clark and senior forward Cecil Williams. The high quantity of surrounding talent means he can play a more controlled, relaxed style.
And according to Johnson, one of the biggest causes of the differences between the brothers was simply their prescribed role on the team.
“I just think their games are so different in regards to what we asked them to do,” Johnson said.
As Jimmy Whitt has grown and improved, so has his performance against his brother. In the last game they played before Marcus Whitt left for college, the younger brother won, 5-3.
Who would win today? Well, it depends on which brother you ask.
“Oh, I’d definitely win,” Jimmy Whitt said confidently.
Said the older brother: “No, not so much. … He’s not ready for me yet.”
However, the competitiveness between the two doesn’t eat away at how proud Marcus Whitt is of his younger brother.
During Hickman’s Feb. 9 game against Madison Prep, he was in the stands, watching Jimmy Whitt play and shooting video of his last-minute, game-winning bank shot, wearing a smile that seemed to stretch halfway down Providence Road.
No matter what, Marcus Whitt loves seeing his brother succeed, which has become a common occurrence this season.
“My little brother’s doing good, and that’s all I wanted,” he said.
And he’ll be there for Jimmy Whitt, who calls Marcus Whitt his “mentor,” ready to offer advice and assistance as long as he needs it.
“I know he can take his game all the way to the next level,” Marcus Whitt said. “So, you know, I’m there until he gets there, and once he gets there, it’s a job done.”