Elliot Whitney is Lincoln High School's other boys basketball star

Iowa State-bound JT Rock isn't the only one lighting it up for No. 2 Patriots

Elliot Whitney.jpg
Lincoln High School guard Elliot Whitney brings the ball up the floor during the Patriots' win over Washington High School on Thursday, Jan. 26, in Sioux Falls.
Matt Zimmer / Sioux Falls Live

When Elliot Whitney is an old man, perhaps surrounded by grandchildren, he'll be able to tell them about all of the famous college basketball coaches who came to watch him play for Lincoln High School.

Bill Self. Fran McCaffrey. Matt Painter. Greg McDermott. T.J. Otzelberger.

These are some of the biggest names in college basketball, and Whitney was living out every prep hoopster's dream by playing in front of them.

Of course, they were there to see JT Rock, the Patriots' 7-foot-1 center who has become one of the best high school players the state has ever seen. Rock scored 30 points and made history by ripping the rim off the basket on Tuesday, Jan. 31, forcing the Lincoln/Watertown game to be moved to the auxiliary gym.

But for Whitney, being along for the ride with Rock has been quite an experience, and one he's made his own major contributions to. The 6-foot senior guard has established himself as one of the best shooters in the state, averaging 14.6 points per game, shooting 49% from 3-point land. He was over 50% before an uncharacteristic off night on Tuesday. Whitney also is chipping in 3.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game.


Rock is headed to the Big 12, where he'll play for Otzelberger, the former SDSU Jackrabbit coach, at Iowa State. Whitney will play at Division III Gustavus Adolphus. If the 11-1 Pats are going to win a 'AA' state championship, Rock will lead the way, but Whitney's role as wingman will be every bit as important.

Elliot Whitney shoots free throws during Lincoln's win over Washington on Jan. 26.
Matt Zimmer

"He's one of our leaders," coach Jeff Halseth said of Whitney, who is the son of local sportswriting legend Stu Whitney. "He gets guys in the right spots. He knows where everyone is going to be when he decides to attack, so he knows where the ball should go, and if they don't want to guard him he'll make a 3. He's got the green light. Anytime he sees a shot he likes he can take it, and if he's open he's probably gonna make it."

That goes for Tate Schafer, Jack Hilgenberg and Elijah Olson - the rest of starting five - as well. Lincoln averages over 70 points per game as a team, with an inside-outside attack that's hard to defend. Rock averages 19.6 points to lead the team, but crowding the paint to stop him isn't necessarily a good strategy.

"Elliot's a great shooter," Rock said. "All of our guys are. It's nice to be able to kick out to open shooters when teams are doubling me. I can trust they're gonna make those shots. It's a luxury to have guys like Elliot and the others who can make teams pay."

Whitney first started getting attention as a sophomore, and established himself as a varsity starter as a junior, when he averaged 12.0 points and had a couple breakout performances. But Lincoln went a modest 14-10. This year they're ranked No. 2 in the state, with their only loss to unbeaten, No. 1 Jefferson. Whitney turning himself into more than just a shooter has been a factor. He's learned how to facilitate the monster in the middle while knowing when it's his turn to carry the offense, to excellent results so far.

"I've embraced my role," Whitney said. "When you have a guy like JT on your team it's special. We're trying to win and having a 7-1 dude definitely helps. We've always done our best to help him, because he deserves all the attention he gets, but at the same time we're all trying to win, too. We know this team can win a championship."

Elliot Whitney celebrates a teammate hitting a 3-pointer during Lincoln's win over Washington on Jan. 26.
Matt Zimmer

Whitney's sister, Emily, had an excellent tennis career at Lincoln, and both have played under the watchful eye of Stu, who spent much of his time as a sportswriter covering high school football and basketball.

That meant at times dealing with over-invested parents or sensitive coaches, and now Stu finds himself on the other side of that coin.


"I've broken some of my own rules," Stu chuckled after watching Elliot go for 21 points in last week's win over Washington. "I used to tell parents to chill out. But anyone here will tell you I do not chill out at these games. It's obviously different. I don't ever remember being nervous before covering a game but now I'm nervous for all of them. I kind of just decided to be myself and unfortunately that comes pretty naturally."

It's been fun for Elliot, who grew up more attuned to the prep sports scene because of his dad's involvement in it. Now he gets to make an impact on it, and Stu says the best part of watching his son's journey has been the private moments after games, where Elliot can be unfiltered, and Stu, with years of post-game interviews under his belt, can be a supportive sounding board.

Varsity game moved to auxiliary gym after 7-footer breaks rim off basket

Stu often wrote about the dogged pursuit of Division I dreams by so many local standouts, which made it extra surreal for Elliot to see the coach of Purdue or Iowa just a few feet away watching him play. But he sheepishly joked that the closest he got to earning their attention was when he almost hit Hawkeye coach Fran McCaffrey with his car in a parking lot.

"Just seeing those famous coaches on a random Wednesday night was fun," Elliot Whitney said. "We'd just kind of laugh about it because for the rest of us it didn't seem real. I can't imagine what that's been like for JT, but like I said, he deserves all of that. It's been a blessing to be on the same team as him."

While the Pats have won nine in a row heading into Thursday night's home game against a 1-11 Brookings team, the undefeated Cavaliers remain the favorites in 'AA'. They beat Lincoln 71-57 in the Jefferson gym back on Dec. 20. The Pats get their shot at revenge on Feb. 17. That game won't decide the state title, but it's a chance for Lincoln to show they intend on challenging a Jefferson squad made up of some of the same athletes that led the Cavs to an almost uncontested championship football season.

"We have that game circled," Elliot Whitney said. "They're the team to beat right now. We respect them, but we're really looking forward to that game. It'll be fun."

Matt Zimmer is a Sioux Falls native and longtime sports writer. He graduated from Washington High School where he played football, legion baseball and developed his lifelong love of the Minnesota Twins and Vikings. After graduating from St. Cloud State University, he returned to Sioux Falls, began a long career in amateur baseball and started working as a sports freelancer. Zimmer was hired as a sport reporter at the Argus Leader in 2004, where he covered Sioux Falls high schools and colleges before moving to the South Dakota State University beat in 2014.
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