TAMPA — Malcolm Whitlow was tangled in a sea of bodies after attempting a layup. Once the pileup cleared, the Carrollwood Day senior stayed on the court for a few seconds, clutching his ankle.
As Whitlow hobbled near the sideline, Patriots coach Baker Mabry checked on the status of his star player. Whitlow assured his coach everything was fine, then proved it by scoring again and again.
Down by 10 points in the final two minutes of regulation, Whitlow almost single-handedly cut the deficit to three. In the waning seconds, Whitlow blocked out the pressure — and the pain of his throbbing ankle — to hit a 3-pointer, a what-the-heck heave from beyond NBA range to send the game to overtime. From there, Whitlow kept scoring, eventually leading Carrollwood Day to a much-needed 87-83 victory over Class 4A, District 4 rival Calvary Christian.
Afterward, the school’s scorekeeper handed the book to Mabry, pointing to Whitlow’s final numbers. Both did a double take.
Whitlow finished with 57 points.
“Malcolm is such a volume scorer, and he does it so quietly,” Mabry said. “You think he has about 25 or so points, then you look at the stat sheet and he has 57.”
Eye-popping numbers are nothing new for the 6-foot-1 Whitlow. After all, he leads the area and is third in the state in scoring with an average of 27.6 points per game. The Patriots start district tournament play Tuesday night as a fifth seed at No. 4 St. Petersburg Catholic.
The 57 points Whitlow scored two weeks ago was his best in high school but not overall. He scored 62 as an eighth-grader in Nebraska. In fact, if he had played his entire high school career in Florida, he would have beaten out current New York Knick Kevin Knox (Tampa Catholic) as Hillsborough County’s all-time leading scorer.
The ability to pile up points runs in the family. Whitlow’s father, Amon Helmstadter-Whitlow, won four state titles in the 1990s with Lincoln (Neb.) Northeast High.
In first grade, Whitlow played for a team run by one of his father’s friends. Whitlow kept getting better, so much that he once scored 30 points in sixth grade.
In high school, Whitlow followed his father’s footsteps by playing for Northeast. Two years later, the family moved to Tampa.
“We were just looking for a better opportunity,” Whitlow said.
It is a large family. Whitlow has five brothers, all of whom play basketball at different levels, from kindergarten through high school.
Amon, an eighth-grader, is on Carrollwood Day’s varsity team. The two brothers are joined at every practice and game by another sibling, Alijah, who has Down syndrome.
Alijah, a sophomore at Wharton, has played basketball in the Special Olympics. Now he takes shots during halftime and is in the locker room with the team before and after games.
“Everyone has really embraced the whole family, especially Alijah,” Mabry said. “It’s really a neat thing to see.”
The family is at every game, home and away. They were there last season when Whitlow averaged more than 31 points per game and led the Patriots to a district title and a region final appearance.
This season, the points keep racking up. But the wins are harder to obtain.
There has been plenty of turnover on the staff. Carrollwood Day coach Teddy Owens left to take a job in Oklahoma. His replacement, Chris Senoga-Zake Taylor, was ejected from a game in January and suspended the remainder of the season by the Florida High School Athletic Association.
Mabry, the school’s athletic director, has taken over on an interim basis.
“It’s tough because we’ve had so many coaching changes,” Whitlow said. “I knew I had to step up tremendously as a leader.”
Playing for three coaches in two seasons is not the only adjustment Whitlow had to make. He is one of just four on this year’s roster who have played in every game. As one of the top scorers in the state, Whitlow has to battle double and triple teams from opponents intent on stopping him, all while trying to recover from a twisted ankle.
Even the long-range, buzzer-beating 3-pointer against Calvary Christian came with a defender in his face.
Mabry stands back in wonderment at his prized point producer.
“As the athletic director I had watched him the past two years as a fan,” Mabry said. “I knew he was good, but you don’t have a true appreciation of just how good he is until you’re on the sidelines as a coach. He is definitely the best player I’ve ever been around.”
Contact Bob Putnam at [email protected]. Follow BobbyHomeTeam.