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Boys basketball: IHC’s Whalen’s a natural at the point

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Jude Whalen came to Immaculate Heart Central boys basketball coach Mike Delaney prior to the season with an intriguing proposition.

After playing off the ball in his first three years on the IHC varsity, Whalen volunteered to move to the point guard position for his final season.

“It kind of surprised me at first,” Delaney said, “because he was so good working away from the ball. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. As it turned out, Jude is a natural for playing the point.”

It’s an adjustment the versatile Whalen has taken in stride. He’s been a main driving force in IHC’s 6-0 start to the season, and one of the reasons the Cavaliers will probably contend for a Section 3 Class C title at the end of the season.

Whalen, who already made a significant switch this school year when he played football instead of soccer in fall, said handling the ball more is no big deal. It just means he can set his teammates up more often.

“I’ve always done a lot of ball handling even though I wasn’t playing point,” said Whalen, a natural all-around athlete who recently signed to play Division I lacrosse at Drexel University. “It gives me the opportunity to see more of the court, and to make good decisions for my teammates who need the ball. So far, the adjustment has been pretty easy.”

Delaney figured it would be for one of the most talented athletes he’s coached in his long tenure on the sidelines.

“Physically, Jude is as good as we’ve ever had,” Delaney said. “He’s quick, he’s strong, he can jump and he runs the court very well. But the thing that sets him apart are his court instincts and his knowledge of the game.”

Through six games, Whalen’s statistics are modest. But taken together, they are mighty impressive.

Whalen is averaging just 10.5 points a game, down from the 14.1 he averaged as a sophomore and the 13.5 he averaged last season as a junior. But he’s taking about four shots a game less than in those two seasons.

“I realized I probably wouldn’t get as many opportunities to score,” Whalen said. “But we’ve got two great shooters in Jude Fusilli and Robin Massey that need the ball, and a couple of big guys (Cole Carpenter, Miles Sexton) that also need some touches. I take my chances when they are there, but I’m looking pass first.”

His most impressive stats are his 5.7 assists per game, and his five steals per contest. Delaney said it’s Whalen’s presence on defense that makes the Cavaliers’ full-court press such a weapon.

“He’s so active and has such quick hands, if he isn’t stealing the ball he’s deflecting it to others,” Delaney said. “With all of his steals, he’s probably responsible for just as many for his teammates.”

Whalen said playing defense “means you have to work hard every second and just be aware where everybody is on the court.”

Delaney also said Whalen’s ability to cover so much ground means his teammates can take more chances.

“Jude also recovers as well as anybody we’ve had,” he said.

Monday night’s game against Indian River was a typical example of what Whalen brings to the court. He scored a season-high 17 points, finished with seven rebounds, six steals and five assists as the Cavaliers earned a 10-point victory.

“The way Jude plays on the court, hustling all the time, is also what you see in practice every day,” Delaney said. “He’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever coached and just a dedicated athlete who loves the competition.”

Delaney has to ask his senior standout to slow down at times and play a little bit under control. “That’s tough because he only knows one speed,” said the coach.

Whalen is coming off a football season in which he played a key role on both sides of the ball for the Cavaliers, who went 8-1, won the Class C North title and made it to the Section 3 finals. He was an outstanding wide receiver and return man, as well as a standout defensive back for Paul Alteri’s team.

All the more amazing was that it was Whalen’s first venture into football. He had been a standout soccer player at IHC before deciding to give football a try in his senior season.

“It was an adjustment physically, getting hit on almost every play,” Whalen said of his football experience. “But I had a lot of fun. Football is so different than anything else. Every play is different, and every play you have to make all sorts of adjustments. I think it’s really helped me on my move to the point.”

Whalen injured his ankle in the sectional final and missed the first couple weeks of the basketball season. So he got a slow start in his new role.

“But it’s as if he played point all his life,” Delaney said. “His understanding of what we want to do is like having another coach on the floor.”

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