Archdeacon: Unsung Whitehead ‘heart and soul’ of UD women’s basketball team

Credit: Erik Schelkun

Credit: Erik Schelkun

She gets overlooked all the time.

That’s what Shauna Green, the Dayton Flyers women’s basketball coach, was saying about senior forward Kyla Whitehead:

“I wish people gave her the recognition she deserves. She does so much for us. She should be on the conference all-defensive team, but she doesn’t get a lot of credit. For some reason people don’t see it.”

You wonder how that can be because when you look at the 6-foot-2 Whitehead out there on the court, she stands out.

And we’re not just talking about those big eyelashes she wears, ones that would make the likes of Cardi B, Lizzo and Lady Gaga all give her the nod into their sisterhood of long, fluttering lashes.

Nor are we just talking about those fancy painted nails she sported in the Flyers 77-59 victory over St. Louis Sunday afternoon at UD Arena.

“They were supposed to be powder blue, but they ran out,” she shrugged. “I guess they’re more aqua blue.”

And then there are the tattooed quotes – one from a TV show, the other from the Bible she said – that she has on her upper legs.

All the adornment she admitted is an attempt to “stay cute.”

“I just like to treat myself for a couple of hours each week because basketball can be gruelly.”

She put grueling and gritty together and got the perfect word for the kind of basketball she plays.

“I say it all the time, ‘Kyla Whitehead is our heart and soul,” Green said after the game. “She’s our motor. She’s everything for us. I just love that kid to death.”

On the court Whitehead is the Flyers the unsung workhorse.

Other teammates – the big scorers like sophomore Makira Cook, who had 27 points Sunday and Erin Whalen who had 23 – get the loudest cheers, the headlines and the postseason awards.

But Whitehead does the things that enables them to shine.

She gets the rebounds – she had a game-high 11 on Sunday – she sets the screen and often takes on the other team’s best player, whether they are a guard or someone who plays inside.

Last season St. Louis came into UD Arena and ruined Senior Day for the Flyers. The Billikens got the upset win and snapped UD’s streak of 40 straight conference wins at home, a run that went back to Dec. 4, 2016.

“We had what happened in the last game in the back of our minds going into this game,” Whitehead said. “And we did whatever we could so it wouldn’t happen again.”

Sunday she set the tone right away, grabbing six rebounds in the first quarter alone.

Credit: Erik Schelkun

Credit: Erik Schelkun

Green said rebounding was the key to the game. The Flyers controlled the boards – 49-25 – and didn’t allow St. Louis to get one second-chance point.

“They had zero!” Green marveled as she looked at the box score. “I’m really proud of that number, especially looking at Flowers (the Billikens’ 6-foot-5 senior Brooke Flowers, the Atlantics 10′s leading rebounder last season who ranks 17th in Division I this season.) She’s such a presence.”

After the game, Whalen sang the praises of Whitehead, who was sitting next to her in their postgame press session:

“We wouldn’t be where we are without this girl.”

She talked about Whitehead’s leadership, her rebounding and her ability to guard anyone.

“We are not us without her.”

When Whalen finished, Whitehead leaned over and whispered: “I’m blushing.”

‘I’ll do whatever it takes to win’

When she came to UD out of Pickerington Central High School, she was the No. 126 recruit in the nation according to the All Star Girls Report.

“Coming into this program, I realized one of the niches for me could be offensive rebounding,” she said. “And this year I knew we had Erin and Makira Cook who can drop 20 or 30 a night. So when I went out on the court I wanted to make a difference and I could do that rebounding, playing defense, taking charges, setting screens.

“Now that I’m a senior I’ll do whatever it takes to win. As long as we get the W at the end, I’m cool. I don’t care if I have zero points. But if that’s the case, I’ll bet you I got 20 rebounds. I’ll bet you I got a lot of my teammates open for those points.”

That idea of selflessness is something she said she and some of the older player had to hammer into the younger players.

“Last year with COVID it was hard to develop some of the bonds we needed. We had to get them to understand what relationships with older players could be. How we were the mentors and they were the mentees.

“At first they didn’t want to listen. They were a hard-headed class, but now that relationship has grown. On a personal level and as a team, we’ve bonded. We can say the hard things without someone’s feelings becoming involved.”

She said it’s paying off for the 12-3 Flyers.

That was especially the case Sunday when veteran point guard Araion Bradshaw, who had started 96 of 97 games the past four seasons, was kept on the bench to nurse a foot injury she suffered in the last game.

Cook said with Bradshaw’s voice absent on the court, Whitehead filled that void:

“She’s that player you need on your team. She does everything you could think of.”

Credit: Erik Schelkun

Credit: Erik Schelkun

Staying present

Circling her right thigh, Whitehead has the inked message: “Love Life, Live Life.”

“I got it from a Netflix show, but it’s something I can go with every day.”

Written vertically on her other thigh, she said is Mathew: Chapter 6, Verse 34.

“Basically, it just says “Today is today, tomorrow is tomorrow,’” she said.

“Sometimes I get into my head and I need to be present. This gives me a reminder. Focus on today. If I’m having a crappy day, try to enjoy it and fix it tomorrow.

“All these things help me.”

And regardless of the overlooks by some folks, her opponents know her she said.

“Oh yeah, St. Louis knows me by now,” she laughed. “They know I’m gonna come with my lashes.”

And her eye on every rebound there is.

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