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Basketball: Dariq Whitehead is the SI All-American Player of the Year

Whitehead was the best player on the best team in the country and led Montverde Academy to a national title.

On April 2, Dariq Whitehead learned the true meaning of life’s peaks and valleys.

Earlier in the day he collected his fourth GEICO Nationals title, leading Montverde (Fla.) Academy past Link Academy (Brandon, Mo.) 60-49.

That emotional high was quelled later that night when Duke fell to rival North Carolina in the Final Four. Whitehead committed to Duke last August and had high hopes of his future team sending Mike Krzyzewski into retirement with his sixth national title.

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“It was a bad night,” Whitehead said. “It really was, knowing that they beat us twice that season and then it just added more to it because that was Coach K’s final season. It definitely was tough seeing us take that loss.”

Things started to look up Thursday when Whitehead was named SI All-American Player of the Year, beating out multiple SI99 prospects to earn the prestigious honor.

“It’s a blessing,” Whitehead said. “As a kid you look forward to this type of stuff. It was something I wanted to check off before my senior year started, but I didn’t think too much on it stats-wise; I just wanted to go out there and play to win. Obviously, it got the job done to win such a prestigious award being Sports Illustrated’s Player of the Year.”

Dariq Whitehead

This season, despite playing alongside more than seven high major Division I prospects, Whitehead led the Eagles with 16.5 points, five rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.5 steals a game. He took home MVP honors at the McDonald’s All American Game and led Team USA with 17 points to a win at the Nike Hoop Summit.

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The experience of playing alongside stars isn’t new for Whitehead, he’s been at Montverde since the eighth grade and Kevin Boyle’s teams never lack for top tier talent every year.

That should make for an easy transition to Duke; the Blue Devils will welcome the top class in the SI All-American team rankings, including No. 1 overall prospect Dereck Lively.

“Right now, the main thing we talk about every day is that we’re just excited to get there and get to work,” Whitehead said. “It’s, honestly speaking, one of the most versatile groups I’ve ever seen.”

Whitehead is clear that there will be scrutiny for the first team in the post-Krzyzewski era, but Boyle said his experience at Montverde has prepared him for the magnifying glass.

“Being at Montverde, where we’ve won 7 of the last 10 national titles, the bar is high,” Boyle said. “If you don’t win the national title people will say what’s wrong with the team. Even this year, we were third for most of the year and people couldn’t understand, so he’s used to having high expectations. That will translate and carryover. It’s not a bad pressure, it comes with it, and he’s experienced and equipped to handle it.”

Whitehead is the first player in Motnverde’s storied history, which includes having a record-breaking seven players selected in last year’s NBA Draft, to accumulate four national titles. He almost assuredly would’ve gone 5 of 5 had the pandemic not cancelled GEICO Nationals in 2020.

That group, led by Cade Cunningham and Scottie Barnes, is believed to be the top high school team of all time, rolling teams by an average of 40 points a game all season.

“It’s just been such a pleasure to watch him from eighth grade to now,” Boyle said. “How he matured as a person, student and player; he just kept getting better in all areas. He’s probably the most liked kid on campus here by the faculty, dorm parents, students, teammates, everybody. He’s gonna end up having an amazing college career and NBA career.”

For now, Whitehead is laser focused on the former, and has his sights set on earning his fifth national title at the next level.

“I think we’ll be a very great defensive team,” Whitehead said of next year’s Blue Devils. “A lot of people in the world say we’re too young, we’re not gonna get it done, but I feel like all of us have been battle tested in some way. I feel like if we can just stay locked in and trust each other and lean on each other when things get hard then I think we’ll be fine.”