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#TGW: Muscling Up, Branching Out

Nov. 20, 2014

By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word

– There’s plenty different about the Georgia Tech women’s basketball team, and there has been no better case study in the Yellow Jackets’ 3-0 start to demonstrate that than Aaliyah Whiteside.

She’s a junior now, and a changed player.

The 6-footer from Memphis did not exactly spend her first two seasons on The Flats in the background. She played in 60 games, started 28, and averaged 8.3 and 7.8 points, respectively, as a freshman and as a sophomore.

Opposing coaches did not build game plans around slowing her down, but they might have to start.

Sophomore Kaela Davis and senior Sydney Wallace are the Jackets’ “go-to” players, and that was well known before the first ball was tipped this fall.

Whiteside, however, has entered the conversation after hoisting 20,000 or so practice shots over the summer, changing her diet, and dialing in her training so as to, “get in shape just so I could get in shape to play more minutes for the team. I’ve really been working hard to better myself.”

Early returns are promising.

While scoring 14 points in the Jackets’ 77-48 win Tuesday night over Kennesaw State, she showed off all of her renovations.

On an efficient evening where she didn’t shoot at high volume (5-for-9), Whiteside made 3-of-4 3-point shots to tie her career high for treys in a game, tied her career high with 11 rebounds, tied her career high with four assists and tied her career high with 34 minutes played.

That was her second career double-double (points/rebounds), following an 11-point, 10-rebound outing last season against North Carolina, and she just missed one a few days earlier.

Her all-around effort against the Owls was nothing new, at least not when looking at Tech’s first three games.

In a 102-44 win at Loyola-Chicago, she scored nine points and added nine rebounds. When the Jackets beat Morgan State 105-76 Sunday, she scored a career-high 26 points with the help of career-high 8-for-10 shooting from the free throw line. She added eight rebounds, a career-high four steals, and three assists.

Given that she brought career averages of 8.0 points, 4.2 rebounds, 1.0 assists, and 0.9 steals into the fall, and that she’s now marking 16.3, 9.3, 2.7 and 2.0, Whiteside might warrant a spot on opponent’s white boards.

Head coach MaChelle Joseph did not sound surprised by the numbers after Tuesday’s game when asked about her “new,” older guard/forward.

Aaliyah Whiteside I think in particular is playing well. She’s playing multiple positions and playing them well,” Joseph said. “She worked really hard in the offseason on her conditioning level, and it has put her in a position where she can play more quality minutes.

“I think she’s shooting the ball with a lot more confidence because she’s put in the work.”

Indeed, Whiteside is shooting 55.2 percent (16-for-29) overall, and 55.6 from beyond the arc (5-for-9). In her first two seasons: 36.2/29.2 percent.

The Jackets appear more dangerous from distance than in years, which explains much of Joseph’s schematic transition from a double-post offense to a four-guard attack.

Add the flexibility of Whiteside, who like several teammates can also do damage in closed quarters near the basket, and Tech is again intriguing.

She’s changed her body, developed her game, and adjusted her approach.

With the graduation of Ty Marshall, one of Tech’s all-time top players, there is more room for Whiteside to work, and she’s going after it.

After last season, she sensed a certain clock ticking and set out to maximize the time she has left as a Jacket.

That process began in the offseason, while she was putting up all those shots, and doing all that extra work with strength and conditioning coach Scott McDonald often at the switch.

“A lot of it has to do with my mindset. I really changed,” she said. “Two years had passed and I was inconsistent. I just really made up my mind that I need to be a leader for the team, and [Joseph] really pushed me throughout this. And my teammates pushed.”

With six freshmen, including starting point guard Antonia Peresson of Perdenone, Italy, and touted guard/forward Zaire O’Neal of Newark, N.J., there is plenty new about Tech. Whiteside is not the only Jacket whose role has grown.

Junior post player Roddreka Rogers is flourishing, often as the Jackets’ lone player in the paint in half-court sets, although Joseph still deploys two posts at times.

Rogers tied her career high with 17 points against Morgan State, against whom she grabbed a career-high 17 rebounds. She’s averaging 11 points and 12.7 rebounds.

“What’s helped Roddreka is . . . a lot of her career she’s been the high post, and I think the thing that has helped her the most is we’ve gone to this four-guard lineup,” Joseph said. “We’re working off of her on the low block. She’s closer to the basket.”

Davis is scoring 18.0, just shy of last season’s 18.6 average, and Wallace is pitching in 13.3 points. O’Neal is adding 12.3 points and 5.3 rebounds off the bench as she transitions from playing mostly in the post as a 5-11 high schooler to the wing at Tech.

Davis and Wallace will continue to be the Jackets’ primary snipers. They’ve put up 18 and 16 treys, respectively, to Whiteside’s nine.

It looks like a good bet, however, that No. 2 (Whiteside) will on some nights be the Jackets’ No. 1.

“We expected to see this production from Aaliyah last year and . . . she’s raised up to fill that role of the third scorer that we need,” Joseph said. “We knew that Kaela and Sydney were going to be consistent scorers for us on the perimeter.

“With Aaliyah Whiteside, you’re adding another perimeter scorer. She’s just stronger. Again, she’s in better physical condition; she’s bigger, stronger and faster than she was a year ago and obviously a year older, an upperclassman. She knows what’s expected of her.”

Whiteside worked hard in the offseason to grow her own expanded expectations so that they might meet greater external demands.

“Every day in the gym, you get a little workout from all the shooting,” she said. “And I had extra workouts with Scott on the treadmill, extra conditioning. Eating better is a big part of it, too, because you just feel better.”

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