Hickman's Jimmy Whitt commits to Arkansas: from decision to announcement

Tuesday, August 19, 2014 | 9:10 p.m. CDT; updated 6:54 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Hickman basketball player Jimmy Whitt announced that he will play for Arkansas during a news conference Tuesday at Hickman High School. He said his final decision came down to Missouri and Arkansas, but conversations with now-Arkansas coach Mike Anderson helped sway him toward Arkansas.

COLUMBIA – Jimmy Whitt stood with his family by his side at the Hickman High School commons Tuesday evening, similar to how he did in his kitchen roughly nine hours earlier.

Media cameras, friends, teachers, teammates and fellow students gathered in the commons and stared while he spoke.

Whitt thanked his parents and his coaches, but ultimately thanked his older brother, Marcus Whitt, who plays basketball at Columbia College and was with him while he was dripping sweat Tuesday morning.

The Hickman boys basketball senior reached into a brown bag and yanked out an Arkansas Razorbacks gray T-shirt. Whitt verbally committed to play basketball at the University of Arkansas under former Missouri basketball coach Mike Anderson.

On Friday and Saturday, the Whitts drove to Fayetteville and walked the campus before the recruit sat with Anderson for an hour-long conversation that Whitt said was very productive.

"I don't talk to anyone for an hour," Whitt said.

"He can be shy, so that tells you something," said Whitt's mother, Annelle Whitt.

Soon after Saturday's visit was when Jimmy Whitt felt his decision come together.

"He came to the bedroom and told me, 'you always said when I'd know, I'd know,'" Annelle Whitt said. "I asked him if he was sure, and he said he was."

James and Annelle Whitt advised their son to wait a day or so for his emotions to settle from the visit. 

Monday night, Arkansas still felt right.

"There wasn't anything anyone else could do at that point," Whitt said. "It ultimately came down to Mizzou and Arkansas, but my heart was with Arkansas."

So, Whitt's dad, James Whitt, called the five coaches whose schools his son had been considering. All the coaches passed along their support and good luck to Jimmy Whitt.

"After my dad called the coaches, I immediately called coach (Mike) Anderson," Whitt said. "He laughed and said, 'You just made an old man really happy.'"

The Columbia native said he still plans to visit Arkansas when the football team plays Alabama on Oct. 11.

Preparing for his big announcement Tuesday — also the first day of school at Hickman — Whitt didn't get to sleep until about 2 a.m. After waking up three times throughout the night, he rose around 7 a.m. 

After getting ready, Whitt woke his brother. The four Whitts gathered in the kitchen, held hands and Annelle Whitt led a prayer.

Jimmy Whitt forgot to eat breakfast before he drove off to school. As he walked in the Hickman side doors toward the gym for his first class, his strength training teacher shook his hand.

"It's a great day to be you," Mason Mershon said.

"Why?" Whitt said. 

"You know why," Mershon said as he smirked.

"Because I'm committing?" Whitt said with a laugh and walked into the gym.

Whitt announced late Monday on Twitter that he'd be making his announcement Tuesday after school. He kept the news a secret — even to his friends and his coach.

When students asked what school he was choosing, Whitt laughed the question off with non-answers.

Whitt's Monday schedule this semester allows for a break after his first class until his next starts just before 1 p.m. As he was walking to his car after his first class, there was an announcement over the Hickman intercom. The voice over the speaker told everyone to go to the commons at 5 p.m. for Whitt's announcement. 

"That was weird; they never do stuff like that," Whitt said.

Because Whitt had an extensive break, he grabbed McDonalds before he met his brother at Columbia College for basketball drills around 10:30 a.m.

The two dribbled through cones and shot jumpers in the mostly empty gym. Whitt lost his handle a few times and slammed a ball on the ground before continuing through the drills.

Whitt bent over with his hands on his knees while sweat dripped from his face after an hour of drilling.

"It was good to get my mind off the whole thing and focus on training," Whitt said afterwards.

Once Whitt showered, he drove back to Hickman for an afternoon of classes before what he called "one of the biggest decisions of my life."

In the car ride back, he was thinking about his announcement speech. It mostly had been forming in his head since he made his decision.

He milled around with his friends in the commons and then stepped behind a table with his family at 5 p.m. Coach David Johnson lauded his star player for his talent and humility. Whitt then stepped up and told everyone his choice.

After his speech, he scrolled through his phone among a handful of friends. It was time to go to Applebee's, a typical post-game tradition.

Comfort meals in his hometown won't last much longer. In selecting Arkansas over Missouri, Whitt chose a new set of challenges.

"Being here, you're kind of babied, and everybody thinks you're already a big shot," Marcus Whitt said of his younger brother. "But when you go somewhere new, you've got to work hard and prove yourself all over again."

Supervising editor is Mark Selig.

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