BOLIVAR – The last time Jimmy Whitt wore his purple and turquoise Under Armour shoes was in a January game at Mizzou Arena. He scored 31 points, one of his best games of the season.
On Saturday in the Class 5 state quarterfinals against Willard (22-7), Whitt wore that same pair of Under Armour shoes for the first time since that game at Mizzou Arena. The junior led Hickman (26-2) with 25 points in a 57-54 victory — a win that will send him and the Kewpies back to Mizzou Arena, just a mile down the road from Hickman, for the state's final four.
"I wanted to get back to Mizzou Arena," Whitt said. "So I thought about the last time I played there and we won, I wore those shoes."
The Kewpies, who made it to the final four last season but lost to Rockhurst, will play Thursday against Hazelwood Central (25-2) — the team they beat by 23 points that day in January when Whitt wore the now-special sneakers.
On Saturday, Whitt matched up with Willard star senior and Missouri State commit, Chris Kendrix.
Kendrix dropped 40 points in the loss. He scored 20 of Willard's 26 points in the first half, when his team led by one. With Kansas State head coach Bruce Weber in the building to watch Whitt, he had 14 in the first half, keeping his Kewpies in the game. But Whitt's offense was only part of the reason Hickman hung around throughout the game.
"When you have a group of kids that are so committed," Hickman coach David Johnson said about his team continually winning close games. "So committed to not giving up – a lot of people say they won't give up but not actually do it. I'm just so proud that our guys do it."
In the third quarter Hickman got contributions from an array of players while Whitt focused his effort on containing Kendrix, who had a slow start to the half. Hickman got valuable offensive production from seniors Chris Clark, Jordan Jones and Mason Murray.
The Kewpies were down by one heading into the final quarter when Whitt got going.
In the first minute of the fourth quarter, Whitt drove to the hoop, hit a layup and got fouled. He screamed in excitement, something he normally doesn't do. He then knocked down the free-throw to put the Kewpies up by two. They would never go down again.
It was the first Hickman lead since the first quarter and Whitt knew that, which is partially why he screamed. He screamed a few times throughout the game after big plays, like when he sprung up for an alley-oop thrown by Clark.
Whitt had to let out his emotion. It had been building up all day.
When he woke up, he didn't say much at all. His mom wanted a morning hug but didn't get one. He didn't say a word about the game. Whitt's mother knew her son's level of focus was on another level.
He then left his house to go to Finish Line and get a pair of turquoise socks to match his shoes.
Supervising editor is Mark Selig.