Whitten challenges herself to play ‘Big’ for the Lady Panthers

Shelby Whitten (#3) is a major contributor to the success of the Lady Panthers. (Photo by Kathy Canady)

Shelby Whitten (#3) is a major contributor to the success of the Lady Panthers. (Photo by Kathy Canady)

By Dana Delgado

At 5’3”, there is little wonder why Shelby Whitten is called “Lil Bit” by Lady Panther varsity basketball Coach Matt Kirschner.

Her friends as well as her father, Tad Whitten, call her “Shelbers.”

But when she steps on the basketball court for Liberty Hill High School, Whitten needs no introduction and is simply known and readily recognized by her exceptional play and leadership.

In only her second year of varsity play, the junior point guard is the emerging queen of calm, control, and absolute competence and competiveness who regularly draws the ire but respect of her opponents.   She is a team captain and her teammates rely heavily on her for her accomplished repertoire of skills on the hardwoods.

“Shelby is very important to our success,” said Coach Kirschner, who is impressed with her season averages per game. “She is second in the team in points (10.57), first in assists (4.48) and second in steals (3.5) and deflections (5.2) and is a team captain.”

Defensively, Kirschner says Whitten is crucial to the Lady Panthers’ trapping defense.

“She plays the hardest position on defense as the interceptor in the press,” said Kirschner. “I am asking a lot of her on defense and she has responded well.”

Offensively, she is every opponent’s nightmare with her adept ball handling skills, excellent court vision and uncanny shooting range.

“She controls the tempo of the game,” added Coach Kirschner, “and our offense runs through her.”

The Liberty Hill coach says the junior’s competitiveness is tied directly to her relentlessness to improve her game.

“Her overall love for the game of basketball and her concern on what she needs to do to become a better player is what impresses me most about Shelby,” said Coach Kirschner. “She is a gym rat. She loves to be in the gym and is constantly working on her game.”

There is little surprise that she holds NBA player Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder in high regard for his “outstanding shooting” and his ability to be an “overall amazing team player.”

Interestingly, Whitten is of that same mold and remarkably mirrors Westbrook in many aspects of his game but particularly his intensity and team play.

“Shelby has great court vision and is also a very good three point shooter,” added Kirschner. “I feel every time she shoots a 3-pointer, it is going in. She also has the ability to get to the rim and has added a pull-up jump shot, which makes her extremely hard to guard. She handles the ball well and is always looking for an open teammate to pass to, but is willing to shoot it when open.”

The junior guard points to the state basketball tournament in 2013 as her greatest basketball moment; even though, she didn’t get to play.  A broken finger that ended up requiring surgery and left two screws in her knuckle ended her season two weeks before the playoffs got underway.

“It was torture for me,” she recalls.  “I hated having to watch my teammates out there on the court without me and I really felt like I let them down.  I had never injured anything before in my whole life. It wasn’t fun, but it taught me that I must keep a positive attitude towards everything; anything can happen. I still cheered and encouraged them and they really did awesome.”

Her selection as “Newcomer of the Year” for District 8-3A following that memorable state run, however, marked her most significant individual honor to date.

“It was a huge honor and I’m blessed to have had an awesome coach and awesome teammates who helped me get it,” she said.

Whitten says she started playing basketball in fourth grade and gives a lot of credit to her father for her development; although her mother, Beth Whitten, influences her in a different way.

“My mom and dad both have been there for me since day one and I wouldn’t be where I am today without them,” she said. “My dad has spent countless hours rebounding for me and correcting me to help me be the best I can be.”

On the other hand, the junior athlete says her “mom is a very positive person.”

“She has taught me that there is always a silver lining in something and I just have to find it in order to keep pushing forward,” Whitten said.

Another major influence on her development as a player has been playing on a select team coached by Jack Bevers, the father of one of her closest friends, along with her dad.

“He (Mr. Bevers) has influenced me greatly,” she said. “He’s a great coach who truly cares about us and our well being. Our families are very close and I know I can always go to him for anything.”

The teammates on her select team have been like family.

“The girls are some of my best friends,” she said. “Most of us have known each other since we were little bitty and just being surrounded by such a good group of girls is amazing. We’ve been playing together on Swoosh for six years now, and we’ve made so many memories. I’m excited to see what is in store for us this coming summer.”

While she is a fierce, relentless and competitive basketball player, Whitten says her world is a bit different when she steps away from the hardwoods.

“I’m a different person on and off the court,” she said. “I’m not a very serious person when I’m with my friends; we have a lot of fun and laugh a ton. I do take my grades very seriously though. On the court, I’m very serious. My team and I get very determined and aggressive during games. We really come together as a whole and play so well together.”

Like on the court, she has distinguished herself in the classroom.  She is a member of the National Honor Society, participates in University Interscholastic League competition in editorial writing and is active in the Pay It Forward Club.

Putting things in perspective, Coach Kirschner added that it is evident that Whitten is far more than just a basketball talent.

“Shelby is a great young lady, who is not just a great basketball player, but also a great student,” Kirschner said. “I am blessed to coach a player like her.”