Whitley making beautiful music 

In hindsight, it seems obvious Raymond Whitley would not be a guitar or saxophone guy.

The 6-foot-5, 220-pound point forward on the International Studies Academy boys’ basketball team may be an aspiring rapper who has already had songs on two Bay Area hip-hop stations as a member of the Youngstars.

But as the surprisingly soft-spoken Whitley began talking about expanding his musical scope, he revealed an interesting aspect of his personality.

"I’d like to get into jazz, too," Whitley said. "Learn the tuba."

And if that backlit instrument choice comes as a surprise, well, you probably haven’t watched ISA much this season.

Twins Dominic and Marseilles Stewart have been on the Cobras’ marquee for much of the season, earning most of the headlines with dashing drives and stunning solo performances. The seniors have combined to average more than 43 points and 23 rebounds per game in Academic Athletic Association play for ISA (15-7, 11-2 AAA).

But it wasn’t until Whitley resolved paperwork issues, became eligible and brought his steady ballhandling and physical interior presence to the court that the Cobras really found their rhythm.

Whitley is averaging 15.5 points and more than 13 rebounds per game since joining the team, which is 11-0 with him in the lineup. ISA could take over first place in the Neff Division this week with a home win today against Wallenberg (20-5, 12-1) and a road victory at Lowell (22-4, 11-2) on Thursday.

"I’m trying to be a great team player," Whitley said. "Just hustling, doing the little things and working as hard as I can. It feels like we’ve got something special going on."

Whitley’s value was never more obvious than during the Cobras’ dominating 74-45 win Thursday against Galileo. After missing the Lions’ 54-45 victory the last time the two teams met (ISA’s last loss), he poured in 25 points and pulled down 15 rebounds in a game the Cobras controlled from the opening whistle.

"I can’t even put in to words how much he helps our team," Dominic Stewart said. "He totally opens up the game and teams can’t just focus on me and Marseilles. You can’t forget about Raymond."

That’s a fact teams from around the league are beginning to realize and agonize over.

"He changes everything," said Lowell coach Robert Ray, whose team lost to the Cobras 74-72 in overtime in Whitley’s first game this season. "Before, you felt like you could double-team and kind of scramble on defense. Now, it’s real tough."

It was the Cardinals who knocked off ISA in the AAA playoff final last season, the end of a season Whitley was forced to watch from the sidelines because of grades. He has since transferred to Downtown High School and improved his academics and is also taking night classes in order to graduate on time this spring.

"He’s such a powerful kid and he can dribble, shoot the ball and play above the rim," first-year ISA coach Rudy Russell said. "I’m so proud of Ray and what he’s doing this year, on and off the court."

melliser@examiner.com

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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