Former NC cager Whitens transfers to Spartans, Izzo

Daily Press file photo North Central’s Jason Whitens talks with Tom Markowski after Michigan high school basketball state championship win in 2017.

POWERS — Two men who grew up 30 miles away from one another, but 44 years apart, will be spending the next two years seeing a lot more of one another. Former North Central standout Jason Whitens officially became a member of the Michigan State men’s basketball team Wednesday and will play for Iron Mountain native and Hall of Fame coach Tom Izzo.

Whitens, who led North Central to three consecutive MHSAA Class D state basketball championships in 2015-2017, entered the NCAA transfer portal as of May 7. Whitens was the 10th Western Michigan player to enter the portal since the season ended, following a 5-16 season in head coach Clayton Bates’ first year on the job.

After finishing third in the Mr. Michigan Basketball voting back in 2017, Whitens — a 6-foot-4, 185-pound guard — took a scholarship offer at Western Michigan out of high school over a walk-on opportunity at Michigan State.

“That’s what this situation is again; it’s a spot on the team as preferred walk-on,” said Whitens in a recent interview. “There’s always a possibility to earn a scholarship as a preferred walk-on, so that’s going to be what I strive for. This is a dream come true for me. I always wanted to be a Spartan and play for coach Izzo.”

He played limited minutes as a freshman at WMU, redshirted as a sophomore because of a knee injury, and has played in 51 of 53 games for Western Michigan the last two seasons.

Whitens averaged 5.4 points and 3.5 rebounds this past season for the Broncos.

With the redshirt in 2018-19 and the NCAA granting all collegiate athletes another year of eligibility after the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19, Whitens will have two years to play for MSU.

“I had four great years at Western and earned a degree from there. But my time there is over, and I am very excited for the new chapter of my life to begin at Michigan State,” Whitens said.

At North Central, Whitens was named Class D player of the year by the Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters in 2015 and 2016, along with sharing the same POY honor with fellow teammate Dawson Bilski in 2017. Whitens scored a school-record 2,062 points in four years on the Jets varsity basketball team, in a state-record 109 games played over which NC’s record was 108-1.

As starting quarterback, Whitens also led the Kevin Bellefeuil-coached Jets football team to consecutive MHSAA 8-player state football championships in 2015 and 2016.

“As a community, we are extremely proud of Jason’s decision to finish his playing career by playing for Coach Izzo and receive his graduate school degree at Michigan State,” said former North Central head basketball coach Adam Mercier via email Monday night.

“His decision to transfer was a difficult one, but the coaching staff at Michigan State welcomed him with open arms due to his already proven leadership and undeniable strong work ethic,” Mercier added.

After six career games at the Breslin Center for the Jets, it’s a familiar place for Whitens.

“I am sure he (Whitens) gets some positive flashbacks being back in the Breslin after having success during his high school career,” Mercier added. “One of the newer coaches (at MSU) asked him if he wanted to tour the Breslin, and he replied, ‘Nah, I am good.'”

In a recent conversation Whitens had with Izzo, they talked about Foster Wonders and Whitens working out together inside the Meyer Township Community Center Gym in Hermansville.

“Coach thought that was great, that place is still open, as he remembered playing in the Gold Medal tournament in the 1970s with Kurt Ekberg,” Whitens said with a smile. “Talking with coach about U.P. culture was fun, and it had others around us in the basketball offices at the Breslin Center kind of like ‘oh boy, listen to those two about the U.P.’ and that was great also.”

Two Yoopers with strong work ethics. It’s probably safe to say there will be a positive effect on everyone around them in East Lansing.

Tony Paul of the Detroit News contributed to this story.


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