Times Sports Editor
Julie Whitted has been a program changer throughout her basketball career.
The Staunton native stands 6'5" after all and regardless of what coach you ask, they'll tell you the same thing. You can't coach height.
So whether it was at North Clay Junior High or Northview High School, even the casual observer could see the influence that Whitted had on opposing teams. She also was a driving factor in elevating her teams to levels that hadn't been seen before.
This year, IUPUI head basketball coach, Shann Hart got to see the influence that Whitted could have once she became acclimated to the higher level of competition.
Whitted's sophomore year was a breakout season for the Jaguars, who reached the championship game of the Summit League Tourney after compiling a 17-16 record overall.
IUPUI's standout sophomore was a prominent force in a season-ending run of wins that sent the Jaguars to the precipice of an NCAA Tourney bid.
Whitted took her game to another level during the second half of the season, which coach Hart attributed to the improved chemistry of her team.
"We were very pleased with the efforts of a young team," Hart said during a recent phone interview. "From the preseason, we did what I anticipated we would as we continued to gain in areas and learn from each other. The chemistry was missing early, but that improved as the season went on."
During her sophomore year, Whitted demolished her previous career-bests by scoring 27 points against Southern Utah on Feb. 4 and then grabbing 16 rebounds versus the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) on March 10 while blocking eight shots as well.
In her first season with the Jaguars, Whitted appeared in 29 games and showed enough improvement that she started the final six contests of a 14-16 campaign.
During those final six games, Whitted averaged 7.3 ppg. and 4.3 rpg. in 11.2 minutes per contest.
Hart saw enough potential in that court time last year that Whitted became a full-time starter this year.
The Jaguars' fourth-year coach attributes Whitted's improvements to her hard work and improved conditioning.
"Her strength and endurance are a big reason (for her improvement)," Hart said. "Her freshman year she could run about a 14-15 minute mile," quipped Whitted's coach. "This year she's running a seven or eight-minute mile. Her foot work has developed a lot and she came in with decent hands, but she's adjusted well."
Her statistics bear that out as well.
During the 2007-08 season, Whitted improved her numbers to 14.4 ppg. while grabbing 9.9 rpg. and blocking 105 shots (3.2 bpg.). She also shot 48 percent from the field and 71 percent from the foul line.
Hart pointed out that Whitted's influence on a game goes beyond just the numbers in the box score, which Northview head coach Bob Medworth was fond of pointing out as well.
"Julie is special," Hart said. "She's a force that causes double teams and that opens up shots for our guards. Everywhere I've coached, I try to start by finding a post presence and work inside out. It's a true blessing to have her. Julie is so unselfish and that makes it easy on me as a coach."
Other members of the Summit League took notice of Whitted's ability this season and recognized her efforts by placing her on the First Team All-Conference list with teammate Jernisha Cann.
With both players returning next season along with All-Conference Newcomer Nicole James, prospects are very bright for next season according to Hart.
"That was huge," said the Jags coach regarding the positive light shed on the IUPUI program because of the awards. "We're making history for the women's program. It's the first time in the history of the program that we've had three players on All-Conference Teams. We have to build on that success."
Hart also mentioned that while Whitted's improvement from her freshman to sophomore years was outstanding, the sky really is the limit for her center.
"Julie's role changed this year. She's had to be a go-to person for us and provide leadership. The biggest thing for young players is the mental aspect. She has to continue working hard and focus on long-term goals," Hart said. "She'll have to do that day in and day out. She'll have to continue concentrating on her nutrition and working out. She has two years left here and if she understands that I think she can play at the next level."
But before that, there is the prospect of another program first.
The Jaguars have never won a conference championship or received an NCAA Tourney berth. But adding to the school's record book looks all too possible for a team that returns four starters. If IUPUI is going to take that next step Whitted will have be an integral part of the Jags' continued rise.