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NBA DREAMS BEGIN: Gastonia’s Isaiah Whaley begins Las Vegas Summer League with Charlotte Hornets

By Richard Walker

When Isaiah Whaley grew up in Gastonia, he heard all the stories about the city’s NBA basketball players like Thomas “Bubba” Wilson, Eric “Sleepy” Floyd, Darrell Armstrong, Hassan Whiteside and specifically Basketball Hall of Famer James Worthy.

Isaiah Whaley (55) blocks out former North Carolina standout Brady Manek during a recent Charlotte Hornets summer league drills at the team’s Charlotte practice facility. [Hornets.com photo]
Whaley’s chance to join those five – and current NBA player Nate Hinton – starts on Friday when he begins a four-game Las Summer League as a forward for the Charlotte Hornets.

“I represent Gastonia a lot,” said Whaley, who starred at Grier Middle School and Ashbrook High School before playing collegiately at Connecticut. “Everywhere I go. I still talk to a lot of people from there that I attended elementary, middle school and high school with. So I definitely represent Gastonia.”

A 6-foot-9, 225-pounder, Whaley first emerged as a basketball standout as a 6-foot-4 eighth grader at Grier. There, he recorded three triple-doubles of points, rebounds and blocked shots as an eighth-grader in 2012 as he helped the Knights to a regular season title and county runner-up finish.

At Ashbrook, Whaley grew to 6-9, 190 pounds and helped the Green Wave to a 41-15 record in two seasons, the 2015 Big South Conference title and a 2015 N.C. 3A runner-up finish. He averaged 13.7 points, 9.1 rebounds and 4.5 blocks as a sophomore in 2014 and 18.0 points, 8.9 rebounds and 4.6 blocks as a junior in 2015.

A member of the same N.C. high school class as eventual NBA players Harry Giles, Dennis Smith, Jr., and Bam Adebayo, Whaley took a different path to the pros as he attended Charlotte’s Evelyn Mack Academy in 2016 and Mount Zion Prep in Baltimore in 2017 before embarking on a five-year career at UConn.

In those five seasons – the NCAA granted an extra year due to the COVID-19 pandemic – Whaley averaged of 6.1 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.5 blocked shots in 138 games (72 starts).

His talents drew the attention of the NBA enough to attend individual workouts with the Los Angeles Lakers, Memphis Grizzlies, Washington Wizards and the Hornets twice.

“I envision myself as a guy who will bring them high energy and as a defensive player,” said Whaley, whose Hornets open their NBA Summer League schedule on Friday at 6 p.m. against the Indiana Pacers on ESPN2. “I really enjoyed them (Hornets) and I think they were interested. During the workouts there, I felt like they were my best workouts. I just felt really comfortable.”

Whaley is part of a 14-player roster and his Hornets contract means he’s likely to start the upcoming season with Charlotte’s G-League affiliate in Greensboro.

Whaley signed with the Hornets as undrafted free agent.

“I wasn’t disappointed,” Whaley said of not being among the 58 players selected during the June 23 NBA Draft. “I know everybody’s got different paths. My path through basketball has never been easy. I’ve always had to work hard for wherever I’ve gotten. I don’t expect this to be any different.”

With Charlotte, Whaley wants to show the Hornets his diverse skills.

“I’m just looking forward to showing them what I can do on defense,” Whaley said. “I’ve always hung my hat on that. I also want to show what I can do offensively as well. I’m really excited about what I’ll be able to do in Vegas.”

The Charlotte Hornets Las Vegas summer league roster:

No. Player Pos. Ht. Wt. Birthdate Prior to NBA/Home Country
51 Ty-Shon Alexander G 6-3 195 07/16/98 Creighton/USA
8 LiAngelo Ball F 6-5 230 11/24/98 Greensboro Swarm/USA
17 Jalen Crutcher G 6-2 175 07/18/99 Dayton/USA
30 LJ Figueroa G 6-6 200 03/28/98 Oregon/USA
23 Kai Jones F/C 6-10 225 01/19/01 Texas/Bahamas
16 Scottie Lewis G 6-5 185 03/12/00 Florida/USA
45 Brady Manek F 6-9 230 09/04/98 North Carolina/USA
7 Bryce McGowens G/F 6-7 181 11/08/02 Nebraska/USA
22 Cameron McGriff F 6-7 220 09/30/97 Oklahoma State/USA
14 Justin Minaya F 6-7 210 03/26/99 Providence/USA
4 Nick Richards C 7-0 250 11/29/97 Kentucky/Jamaica
21 JT Thor F 6-9 205 08/26/02 Auburn/USA
55 Isaiah Whaley F 6-9 225 03/26/98 Connecticut/USA
5 Mark Williams C 7-1 242 12/16/01 Duke/USA

Head Coach: Steve Clifford (College – Maine-Farmington)
Summer League Head Coach: Jordan Surenkamp (College – Wabash College)
Assistant Coaches: Nick Friedman (College – Miami), Norm Richardson (College – Hofstra), Jackson Simmons (College – North Carolina), Donyell Marshall (College – Connecticut), Ben Resner (College – Stony Brook), Collin Terry (College – Utah Valley University)
Director of Health Care & Sports Performance: Joe Sharpe (College – Old Dominion)
Associate Head Athletic Trainer: Quinton Sawyer (College – North Carolina)

Hornets NBA 2K23 Summer League 2022 Schedule:

Friday, July 8 at Thomas & Mack Center
6 p.m. – Charlotte vs. Indiana (ESPN2)

Sunday, July 10 at Thomas & Mack Center
9:30 p.m. – Charlotte vs. Los Angeles Lakers (NBA TV)

Wednesday, July 13 at Cox Pavilion
5 p.m. – Cleveland vs. Charlotte (ESPNU)

Thursday, July 14 at Cox Pavilion
6 p.m. – Chicago vs. Charlotte (ESPN2)

(All times listed are Eastern)