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Lance Whitaker wasn't in on the secret his teammates, coaches and parents kept from him, but he was long overdue for it.
The UIC-bound guard was 20 points shy of eclipsing the 1,000 point milestone for his prep career heading into Wednesday night's game against West Chicago and Hawks' head coach Jim Wolfsmith, Whitaker's parents — whom Wolfsmith called days prior to notify — nor Whitaker's teammates said anything about it.
For a minute, with only 5 points in the first half during Bartlett's 63-41 nonconference win, it looked as if Whitaker would have to wait until another night.
But with 3:23 left in the fourth quarter in a game well-in-hand for the Hawks, Whitaker drove baseline left, spun away from the hoop into the lane, veered back inside and laid it off the glass for points 1,000 and 1,001 and the secret was out as he poured in 16 points in the second half for the achievement.
"Toward the end of the game my teammates started passing me the ball and telling me to shoot so I was wondering what was going on," said Whitaker, whom Wolfsmith called for time and subbed right away to present him with a game ball signed by his teammates, a milestone delayed after missing all last season with a torn ACL.
"It was definitely a journey, missing my whole junior season, that was very devastating to me so just coming back, playing the whole season, it's been a lot of fun, definitely something for me to be proud of," Whitaker said after Bartlett's fifth-straight win.
"It's definitely a good accomplishment but I'm more of a team-focused person and it's on to the next game, the next opponent which is Lake Park."
Whitaker had a chance to get 1,000 with 3:51 left at the free throw line after making his first. But on the back end he hit the front iron to the dismay of Wolfsmith and others, but Wolfsmith wasn't going to tell Whitaker he was about to join Donte Frazier, DJ Joiner, Luke Labedzki and Anthony Maestranzi as the only Hawks to reach that plateau.
"The ACL injury, coming back from that, the player that he is, it's probably as amazing as the fact he got the 1,000. He was at 672 as a sophomore, so the 1,000 was kind of a given, he probably would have chased Labedzki's school record of 1,632, had he not had the injury," said Wolfsmith.
It sure was a long, strange trip for Whitaker, even during the game. He needed 15 in the second if he were to do it at home since the next 4 games for Bartlett (14-4) are on the road. He got 7 in the third and needed 8 in the fourth. Instead, he got 9. But at that point, Bartlett's defense had done the job, holding West Chicago (3-12) to a 35 percent clip shooting and its leading man John Konchar to just 10 points. On back-to-back nights, Whitaker held top scorers Quentin Payne of St. Charles North to 2 in the second half and Konchar to 4.
"That's two nights in a row. Quentin Payne last night, held him to 2 points in the second half in a key stretch, and really he gave Konchar everything he could handle tonight, trying to get shots up," Wolfsmith said.
Jon Moss added 13 points while Marcus Aluquin chipped in 12, as Bartlett was red-hot from the start. Moss knocked in three 3-pointers as the Hawks raced to10-point lead in the first half that kept ballooning as the game went on with an up-tempo style that created a lot of open shots and separation.
Bartlett shot 22 of 46 from the field against West Chicago's 1-3-1, including 7 of 15 from downtown. The Hawks also outrebounded the Wildcats 31-13, with 13 on the offensive end.
Lucas Zajac, who led the Wildcats with 15 points on four 3-pointers, nailed 2-straight to begin the fourth, cutting Bartlett's lead to 7. That's when Whitaker's party started. He crossed over Konchar for a layup and was fouled in the process. Then Whitaker sank a 3 and it was 54-39, capping an 8-0 run.
"We wanted to focus in on their star guys, try to make everybody else beat us but still have help side," Moss said. "That's one thing we like to emphasize is and we did a good job of that."