Wake Forest’s Whitt makes midseason jump from high school hoops to ACC

After graduating early from Raleigh’s Leesville Road High School, the state’s top-ranked point guard is already a contributor for the Demon Deacons

Wake Forest freshman guard Carter Whitt graduated high school early and joined the Demon Deacons in late December. (Gerry Broome / AP Photo)

Under different circumstances, Carter Whitt would have suited up as a member of the Leesville Road High basketball team for its game against Southeast Raleigh on Jan. 20.

Instead, he was at North Carolina’s Smith Center, playing for Wake Forest against the Tar Heels in a game televised nationally on ESPN.

It’s a quantum leap that still seems a bit surreal to the teenage point guard, who graduated high school early to get a jump start on his college basketball career.

“Sometimes I’ll just be sitting down wherever and I’ll think, like, (a few) weeks ago I was at home and now I’m really playing in these games on TV,” he said. “It’s crazy, but I haven’t had a chance to soak it all in.”

Whitt been too busy trying to make an already difficult transition without the benefit of a summer conditioning program, preseason camp or a full nonconference schedule to get starry-eyed over his new surroundings.

He arrived in Winston-Salem two days before Christmas and played in his first college game nine days later, contributing 11 points and four assists in 25 minutes of a 70-62 win against Division II Catawba.

He made his ACC debut at Georgia Tech on Jan. 3 before making his first start — against preseason conference favorite Virginia, no less — in the next game.

While his performances thus far have fluctuated between an eight-point, three-steal, three-assist effort against Duke to a seven-minute cameo in which he was held scoreless while committing five turnovers in that Jan. 20 game at UNC, Wake coach Steve Forbes said that Whitt’s transition has been nothing short of remarkable.

“I think Carter has been outstanding,” the first-year Deacons coach said. “He has flawlessly learned everything we’ve been trying to do offensively as far as learning the plays.

“There are some things in high school that you get away with that you’re not going to get away with against Virginia or somebody like that. But his attitude has been unbelievable. He’s really meshed with our players. He should be playing high school basketball right now, but he’s playing against grown men.”

A 6-foot-4 Raleigh native with enough flowing blond hair to make Fabio jealous, Whitt averaged 22.3 points, 9.0 rebounds and 8.3 assists as a junior while leading Leesville Road to a 21-8 record and the Cap 7 Conference championship.

He earned All-Star honors in each of his three prep seasons and was rated as the No. 1 point guard prospect in North Carolina.

His plan all along was to skip his final season of high school and enroll early at Wake — the school his father attended and which he rooted for as a youngster.

The idea, however, was that he would simply practice, watch and learn in preparation for the 2021-22 season. But everything changed thanks to two unintended consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.

The first was an NCAA ruling that allowed athletes to participate in winter sports without using a year of eligibility. The second was the loss of graduate transfer guard Ian DuBose, who has been sidelined indefinitely because of complications from COVID-19.

While Whitt said that his unexpected entry into the college game has been less challenging than he expected — saying that “for the most part, I think it’s been a pretty good transition” — he understands things are likely to get more complicated once Wake’s spring semester begins next week and he’ll have to start juggling his academic work with his athletic education.

“Right now, since nobody’s here and we’re not in classes, it’s really just basketball camp. That’s what it feels like,” he said. “When school starts, I think that’s when more adjustments will need to be made.”

Whitt still has some adjusting to do on the court as well.

Through his first seven games, Whitt is averaging 4.0 points, 2.4 assists and 3.7 turnovers per game while shooting just 28.9% from the floor.

“Probably the biggest adjustment has just been the length, with a lot of the passes, adjusting to that,” he said. “I feel comfortable now. There’s times when it’s kind of iffy, especially the first Georgia Tech game. But Virginia and Duke, it’s been good. I feel like our team is getting better, and I’m getting better too.”