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Bartlett guard Lance Whitaker will enter his senior basketball season with his college commitment already sewn up.
A 17-year-old Bartlett resident who missed his junior season due to a torn ACL, Whitaker (6-foot-5) gave his verbal commitment Friday to play for the University of Illinois-Chicago.
"They contacted me a while back and watched me during the AAU season this summer," Whitaker said. "I talked it over with my family and it sounded like the best decision for me. I have a great relationship with the coaching staff, and I like the fact that it's close to home but not too close to home. I'm excited."
Whitaker, an aspiring business major who holds a 3.7 grade-point average and scored 28 on the ACT, chose UIC over offers from Valparaiso, Boston University and the University of California-Davis.
Whitaker played in an integral role in Bartlett's run to a Class 4A supersectional appearance as a freshman. He averaged 16.7 points, 6 rebounds and 2.1 assists as a sophomore, but he has not played in a high school game since the Hawks lost the regional championship to South Elgin in March of 2011. He injured his knee the following July during an AAU game in St. Louis and was forced to sit out his entire junior year.
Whitaker was medically cleared to resume basketball activity in April. He played for Bartlett during summer-league play in June and competed for the AAU Illinois Wolves throughout July. Former York and Downers Grove North coach Al Biancalana, now UIC's associate head coach and lead recruiter, viewed multiple Wolves games, Whitaker said.
"I'm extremely happy for him as I'm happy for any of my kids when they find a college program to play for at any level," Bartlett coach Jim Wolfsmith said. "A lot of the credit goes to modern science. It's a combination of great medicine and tremendous work ethic on Lance's part to get back where he was. It's neat to see him playing again without fear the same way he always played.
"I think it's a great fit for Lance. I wouldn't be shocked if he went out and impressed them enough to get some playing time as a freshman."
Whitaker said he will return to the high school court a different player than he was two seasons ago, mentally and physically.
"The injury gave me time to work on other parts of my game I wouldn't have focused on if (the injury) hadn't happened," he said. "I'm back to 100 percent with my leg strength. I'm feeling great."