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Sustaining Quick Success is the Next Step for Whiteside

Whiteside finally proved he belongs in the NBA. The next step is sustaining that success.

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It has taken Hassan Whiteside one month to prove what he has been trying to show for the past four seasons:That he belongs in the NBA.

By now, his journey has become the feel-good story of the season. A lottery hopeful leaving school after one year and falling to the 33rd pick in 2010; a young player bouncing around from the Sacramento Kings to the D-League his first two seasons; a hungry big man exiting the NBA to play in China and Lebanon, where car bombings still linger on his mind years later. The miles traveled, the disappointments encountered, the emotions exhausted all culminated in a breakout month of January with the Miami HEAT.

“I don’t really think I ever came close to quitting on anything in my life,” said Whiteside. “It’s just that it seemed farther to the people around me than it did to me.”

Whiteside began the season with the Memphis Grizzlies and, after being waived, signed with the HEAT in late November. Following a few quiet appearances, the rebounds began coming down for the 7-foot, 265-pound center. Whiteside felt himself settling in during a December 27 game against the Grizzlies. Then January happened.

In his first full month of the season, Whiteside averaged 13.0 points, 10.6 rebounds and 3.4 blocks in 23.6 minutes over 11 games. This included a 16-point, 24-rebound performance against the Dallas Mavericks last Friday. His rebounding percentage (24.3 percent) is the highest among those who have played at least 20 games, while his blocks per game for the season (2.4) rank third behind only Anthony Davis and DeAndre Jordan.

Fans and opponents have begun taking notice. Whiteside was no longer an unknown or a possible hot streak. As a result of this surging success, he has to prepare for the remainder of the season as a competitor being targeted as one to stop.

“The next step and challenge will be sustaining it,” said HEAT head coach Erik Spoelstra. “He will be talked about on scouting reports now and teams will prepare for him, that’s fine, that’s competition, you have to embrace that. It’s good when you start to get recognized by other teams and during their shootarounds and walk throughs they have to prepare for you. Nobody will fall asleep on him now. It’s not a matter of people knowing who he is, so he has to sustain what he’s been doing. As long as he continues to embrace the work and the program we’ve set, hopefully we’ll continue to take steps forward.”

February and the months moving forward will be different for Whiteside. Opponents now have plenty of film to break down his game and devise plans to limit him. They will study his tendencies and strengths to contain and weaknesses to expose. Whiteside is ready for the changes he may encounter as the season goes on by continuing to improve and never getting complacent.

“(I am) watching film with the coaches,” he said. “I can see what people are trying to do so I can change and nitpick and switch it up.”

Whiteside’s teammates have seen this transformation firsthand. Chris Bosh, who has been impressed with his performance early on, also sees room for growth. The veteran pinpointed how Whiteside can maintain his momentum throughout the season.

“He has a knack for rebounding — continue to rebound the ball, improve on defense,” said Bosh. “I still think he’s trying to get a sense of what he needs to do on screen-and-rolls and help defense, continue to define his game in the post. That alone, he’ll make another step.”

Step by step. Day by day. Whiteside is expected to arrive at practice an hour before it starts and stay an hour after it wraps. The HEAT view his progress as a process rather than an overnight comeback story.

“I get it, I understand why everybody’s looking at the numbers and everything,” said Spoelestra. “My eyeball-to-eyeball conversation with him the first time at the end of November was about the program and embracing the work. … He’s been very committed to that work. You like to see residual from that work. It doesn’t guarantee anything, but now with the success you don’t want to throw that out the door either.”

As the competition will increase, Whiteside is ready to go through the long process of learning how to succeed in the NBA. Whiteside yearned for this kind of success for years. Now that he has attained it, he isn’t about to give it up.

“I just really want to make people remember my name and come out and keep improving on that,” Whiteside said. “Every day is a new day to get better.”

Jessica Camerato is a bilingual reporter who has been covering the NBA since 2006. She has also covered MLB, NHL and MLS. A graduate of Quinnipiac University, Jessica is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association and the Association for Women in Sports Media.

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