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Not many who saw Kali Whiteside play basketball as an eighth-grader could have foreseen her becoming much of a factor for the Anderson County girls' basketball team.
They saw someone who had little feel for the game and an odd-looking shot. But if they looked closely, they also saw someone blessed with height and pure athleticism.
Now, Whiteside has blossomed into one of those vital players if Anderson County is to make a run at the Sweet 16 and hang around if they get there. Simply put, the 6-foot-1 senior is one of the top defensive centers around.
“You hope,” Anderson County coach Tony Kays says of that 2008-09 season when Whiteside took up basketball for the second time. “You see a great-looking athlete and you think you have some time. It took some baby steps but she has developed into being a very good player for us.”
Whiteside's role is simple: Patrol the paint, swat opponents' shots and rebound. On a team that already boasts prolific scorers in Makenzie Cann and Eriel McKee, anything Whiteside contributes offensively is gravy.
“She has gotten to the point where she is looking to take that shot around the basket,” Kays says. “She is getting squared up and using the backboard like we have repped her on.”
Whiteside, who plans to play the game beyond high school, worked countless hours with Kays and assistant coaches Clay Birdwhistell and Nick Cann to become a solid post player who has drawn the interest of several small college basketball programs.
“I have definitely come a long way,” Whiteside says. “It has had to do a lot with the people around me helping me. My coaches and my teammates have played a big part of my development.”
It is not unusual to see opposing players take a tumble when battling Whiteside for a rebound. “She is just so physically strong,” Kays noted.
But there was a time where Whiteside's athletic future appeared to be on the soccer field. It comes as no surprise that she was a goalie and might have had a bright future in the sport.
Basketball? Whiteside was not impressed. “I played one year in the recreation league and I didn't like basketball at all. But then in the eighth grade, I said, 'OK, I am toing to try it.'
“It was something new to try but it was also the people around me. They were all so nice. They just invited me into a group.”
Anderson girls hoops has been counting its blessings ever since.
The articulate Whiteside is active in the Future Farmers of America as a member of the agricultural issues team at school. “We went to talk to (state representative) Kim King about the issues in the agricultural industry right now,” she said. “One of the big things right now is industrial hemp. The Commissioner of Agriculture (James Comer) is going to try to get it passed so we can grow it. It will help the textile industry build our economy.”
Whiteside approached the task with the same enthusiasm she shows when ripping a rebound off the backboard or sending an opponent's shot in the other direction.
Whiteside, wants to become an elementary school teacher, but also hopes to keep basketball, the sport she once eschewed, on her agenda. “I want to keep it in my life because it is something I love and enjoy,” she says. “I want to be sure to maintain that.”
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