Donald Whitehead

Hickory’s Donald Whitehead lays in a basket against Grove City in the District 10 Class 4A championship game at Slippery Rock University on Feb. 28.

HERMITAGE – As with the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington, D.C. with the identical first name, Donald Whitehead is planning to pursue a business degree. Hopefully one day he, too, will become a successful entrepreneur. But basketball is his business at this point.

Monday, it was announced Whitehead will continue his education and collegiate cage career at California University of Pennsylvania.

“I feel like it’s a good fit for me,” said Whitehead, who visited the campus and met with Head Coach Danny Sancomb and many of Cal’s current players.

Whitehead seriously considered several of Cal’s counterparts in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Western Division – Slippery Rock, Mercyhurst and Pitt-Johnstown – before choosing Cal, admitting, “It wasn’t an easy decision for me ... but I’m definitely excited!”

The Hickory High senior concluded his scholastic cage career among Mercer County’s elite. 

Approximately 2 weeks ago Whitehead was selected by Pennsylvania sports writers to the Class 4A All-State 1st-Team. The 5-foot-10 point guard averaged 21 points, 5 assists, 3 rebounds and 3 steals per game for Hickory (23-4), which defended its District 10 title and advanced to the PIAA Elite Eight. The season was shortcircuited by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Regarding Whitehead, Sancomb, who recently completed his 2nd season as Cal’s cage coach, assessed, 

“We’re really excited! His basketball skills, as I’m sure you know, are good. But he’s just a winner. That’s what we’re really excited about. He has the opportunity to make the people on the floor better. He has the ability to score the basketball, distribute the basketball, just whatever it takes to win a basketball game.

“Great attitude! I’m so excited to have the opportunity to coach him,” Sancomb continued. “I think his work-ethic, and the way he listens and just the way he carries himself, he’s going to continue to get better. He’s going to fit into our style of play very, very well. He’ll fit in well with our tempo of going up and down, scoring in transition. I think it’s going to fit him well. And we run a lot of five-out in the half court, keep the court spread, so I think he’ll be able to do the things he needs to do.”

“They play a fast-paced game, and they have some really good guards,” Whitehead said regarding Cal. “They play similar, I’d say, to how I played at Hickory – up and down, pick-and-rolls. It fits my style, I think.”

The Vulcans vaulted to a 19-11 overall, 14-8 PSAC-West record this past season, and Sancomb assessed, “We really got it turned around this year ... this was the first season (Cal’s program) had a winning season since 2012 – we won nineteen games, we’ve got a really good core comin’ back (10 freshmen and 3 sophomores were listed on the 2019-20 roster), and we’ve had a great recruiting class. So we’re really excited where the program’s going, and we know Donald’s going to help us get it to where we want it to be.

“It’s competitive. You’ve gotta play every night; if you don’t play every night you’re gonna leave the gym upset because you didn’t win the game,” Sancomb said regarding the PSAC. “Well coached ... great players. ... The top six teams in our league were really, really good last year on the west side.”

Cal was eliminated from the PSAC-West playoffs by eventual champion IUP (80-63) in the quarterfinals. This past season the Vulcans were led in scoring by 5-11 junior guard Brent Pegram (20.0), 6-4 sophomore guard Zyan Collins (14.0), and a pair of swingmen in 6-4 frosh Luke House (13.4) and 6-4 sophomore Jermaine Hall (11.2). Cal outscored opponents 80 to 73.2 on a nightly norm.

Cal’s cage program is on the uptick, according to Sancomb, who asserted, “We are. Having nineteen wins this past year, and we’ve got a great core comin’ back, I’m really, really excited! I think we’ve got a chance to really do some great things this year.”

Whitehead concluded his career with 1,837 points, 2nd in all-time Hornets’ hoops history behind Geoff Evans (1,968).

“It was definitely a great career. I enjoyed it from freshman through senior year,” Whitehead reflected. “It’s been a great experience, great with my teammates, my coaches. From my freshman year with Coach (Bill) Dzuricsko, to my sophomore through senior years with Coach (Chris) Mele. It’s just been a great experience.

“It was really difficult, ‘cause we felt like we could make it all the way,” Whitehead continued in reference to the coronavirus crisis conclusion to his scholastic career. “But there’s nothing to hang our heads about, ‘cause we had a great season. We enjoyed the whole run. As teammates, we had a good time with each other, so there’s nothing to hang our heads about. We just enjoyed the year that we had and were able to make it that far.”

Whitehead expressed gratitude to his parents, Jeanette and Donald, sister Neely, and his uncle and other family members, “all my coaches – my AAU coaches, my high school coaches; all my teammates – every, single one of them, though it’s hard to name every one of them, but all of my high school teammates and AAU teammates, and every coach who has helped me get here.”

For Donald Whitehead, basketball has been his business, and business has been very good. He’s confident that will continue collegiately at Cal.