In the Nets’ recent 112-97 victory over the Heat, the spotlight wasn’t just on the scoreline; it was also on the remarkable NBA debuts of rookies Dariq Whitehead and Noah Clowney. The duo entered the game with 2:35 left in the fourth quarter to a resounding ovation from the crowd.
Expressing his surprise at the opportunity, Whitehead shared, “I didn’t expect it if I’m being honest. Just coming in, they told me to be ready, so before the game is when I really got in that right mindset that this just might be your first NBA game.” The Newark native, who had family in attendance, described the moment as surreal, marking it as one of the best experiences of his life.
Whitehead’s journey to this debut wasn’t without challenges. Foot surgery had impacted his lone season at Duke, and further complications kept him from participating in the Las Vegas Summer League and training camp. Now, finally healthy, with only minor shin splints to contend with, Whitehead is relishing the opportunity as the second-youngest Net to ever suit up.
Reflecting on his debut, Whitehead stated, “It means everything honestly. I feel like a healthy Dariq Whitehead can be very special.” He highlighted the importance of getting his footing right and overcoming the obstacles that accompany a prolonged absence from the game.
Notably, Whitehead recorded his first NBA point on a free throw during the debut. He acknowledged that while the foot is no longer a problem, overcoming challenges like shin splints and calf pains after seven months of sitting out is part of his current progression.
Derrick Favors holds the record as the youngest Net ever at 19 years and 104 days, with Whitehead just behind at 19 years and 116 days, and Clowney at 19 years and 134 days. Both Clowney and Whitehead were selected in the draft at No. 21 and No. 22, respectively.
Clowney, reflecting on the crowd’s reaction during his debut, said, “That ovation was great. After Summer League, I don’t think they were really rocking with me. But now? Yeah, that was great. That was great, actually. Great reactions. I was really happy.”
The debut of these talented rookies not only adds excitement to the Nets’ season but also marks a significant step forward in their promising careers.