Whitaker will attend John Wood Community College and study nursing

DIXON — Mattie Whitaker, a senior basketball and soccer player for Dixon, signed her letter of intent with John Wood Community College on Wednesday.

The soon-to-be Blazer said she didn't think she was going to be playing college basketball before this season started, but one of her friends goes to John Wood and changed her mind.

“She has nothing but good things to say about [John Wood],” Whitaker said. “When I went there on a visit it fit me and my personality so I feel like that's where I need to be.”

John Wood is in Quincy, Ill., which may sound far, but Whitaker said “it's just across the river.”

“It's three hours from here, so it's not as overwhelming as it seems like,” Whitaker said.

Her high school coach, Butch O'Riley, was in attendance for the signing and he said he loves seeing his players get these types of opportunities.

“It's a special time when kids work hard, earn their scholarships and continue to play,” O'Riley said. “The main thing is to get an education. I tell the girls all the time to get an education so they can take care of themselves.”

Whitaker said it is an honor to be able to continue her sports career as well as her education.

“I'm blessed that God gave me the talents that I have and I can get some money this way and better myself,” she said.

Her new coach, Norman Rodriguez, said he has watched tape of Whitaker play and he is just amazed at her many talents.

“I like her intensity, work ethic, she plays very physical and she's a very smart ballplayer as well,” Rodriguez said. “She can score, she can rebound, handle the ball...she will bring a lot of different facets to our team.”

The thing that excites him the most, is that she is a dual-sport athlete at Dixon.

“I have an affinity for girls who play soccer and basketball because they always know how to play defense with the lower part of their body which I think is essential in basketball,” Rodriguez said. “I think you can get more physical with the lower part of your body than you can with the upper part of your body. If you can learn how to play defense without your hands, you can be a lot more successful on the court.”

Rodriguez said he's going to move her around, inside the paint and out on the perimeter, to utilize all her talents. He will use her more at guard though, the position she played in high school.

Even though she has been a great player for Dixon, Rodriguez said there are things he can help her with in her game.

“I think we will be able to improve her ball-handling skills and her outside shot,” Rodriguez said. “She's quick as it is, but maybe make her a quicker basketball player.”

And, it's nothing against Whitaker, but high school scorers usually aren't complete shooters.

“A lot of high school kids shoot the three or go all the way to the rim,” Rodriguez said. “That mid-range game is what is lacking. That's what we hope to be able to do with her.”

If he can help her add that mid-range jumper to her arsenal, after her two years are up at John Wood, both Rodriguez and O'Riley said she could have a future at a four-year school.

“She can very easily play at the division II level,” Rodriguez said.

“I think there's some four-year schools in that area that can provide her an opportunity to move on to the next level and play,” O'Riley said.

Wherever she goes, it needs to have a good nursing program. That's what Whitaker wants to do for a career.

“I love kids,” Whitaker said. “I feel like I can succeed in that area.”

Not only that, it better have nachos.

For as long as her father, Charles, can remember he's had to get her nachos after her games.

“I'm a big fan of nachos,” Whitaker said, laughing. “They're my fuel. So if I can get some of those, I”ll be good to go.”

It may not be in her scholarship, but Rodriguez said he he will take care of her addiction.

“We have a few places that have nachos around,” Rodriguez said, smiling and nodding. “I think we can take care of that.”