When he was in fifth grade, Gastonia Ashbrook’s Isaiah Whaley and a classmate shared the same first name. One day, their teacher asked everyone their favorite food. She wanted to get acquainted with everyone but also to possibly figure how to deal with having two Isaiahs.
When Whaley said his favorite food was pork chops, Whaley had a nickname that stuck.
“Pork Chop,” as friends still call Whaley, once averaged a triple-double in points, rebounds and blocked shots in middle school. High school coaches in Gaston County noticed. He lived in the Hunter Huss High district but transferred to Ashbrook, which meant he was ineligible to play his freshman season. As a sophomore, Whaley helped Ashbrook to an 18-11 record, averaging 13.7 points, 9.1 rebounds and 4.5 blocks.
This season, he’s led the Green Wave to a 22-3 record and No. 7 ranking in the Observer’s Sweet 16 poll. Whaley averages 18 points, 8.9 rebounds, 4.6 blocks and 1.5 steals. At 6-foot-9 and 190 pounds, he’s lean and needs to add strength and bulk. But he runs the floor extremely well. And, as he showed in Thursday’s regional semifinal win against Ledford, Whaley is an excellent defender.
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“He averages over four blocks per game,” Ashbrook coach Chad Duncan said, “but how many he alters is seven or eight.”
Whaley – who had 13 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks against Ledford – has scholarship offers from Appalachian State, Charlotte, Georgia, Virginia Tech and Western Carolina.
North Carolina recruiting analyst Rick Lewis of Phenom Hoop Report ranks Whaley No. 10 in the state’s class of 2016 that’s considered one of the best in years. It includes three players ranked in ESPN’s national top 10 – High Point Wesleyan forward Harry Giles (No. 2), Fayetteville Trinity Christian point guard Dennis Smith (No. 4) and Pinetown Northside center Edrice Adebayo (No. 8).
“He’s really good,” said Lewis, whose son Tyler played point guard at national power Oak Hill Academy (Va.) and at N.C. State before transferring to Butler. “Isaiah is highly skilled, but he’s more of a finesse player. But he also sees the floor well, and he’s very unselfish and he will always make the right play.”
In Thursday’s 66-44 win against Ledford, Whaley was on the receiving end of an emphatic, two-handed alley-oop at the end of the game, but he also showed a soft shooting touch and a willingness to pass out of double teams.
“He’s a good team player,” said Ashbrook’s Duncan, whose team has won eight straight. “He’s so long, but he can also shoot it outside. Most people don’t realize that, but he’s one of our best 3-point shooters. His mentality is so strong and as this year has gone on, he’s become much more of a leader. Being a captain helps with that. He’s been more in charge.”
Whaley, who has an easy smile and a high-top fade, said he loves being part of something bigger.
“I like making plays for others,” he said. “If they double down, I like dishing it out. But I really like winning. Winning states has been like our main goal from the beginning. We would look around and say, ‘If we stick together, we can do anything.’”
Wertz: 704-358-5133; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr