Devin Whitlock develops into fearless leader for Belle Vernon

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Sunday, February 21, 2021 | 3:20 PM


Devin Whitlock has a tattoo on his right arm that says “Fear None.”

“We all bleed the same,” Whitlock said. “But it’s like a mental thing for me. That (phrase) never leaves my head. Nobody is beating me. They might be good, but I want them to show me how good they are.”

The 5-foot-9 junior point guard at Belle Vernon plays basketball with a competitive flair not often found in players his size.

“I’m 5-foot-8 — and a half,” Whitlock says from behind his face mask.

But forget how tall the WPIAL’s answer to Allen Iverson is for a second, and look at what he has accomplished.

Since transferring from Monessen after his freshman year, Whitlock has been a giant. He led Belle Vernon to a WPIAL runner-up finish and the second round of the PIAA tournament, and now he has the Leopards (10-1) ranked No. 1 in WPIAL Class 4A and No. 3 in the state.

Sure, this team is much more than Whitlock, but he is the conductor of a high-strung team that is averaging 70 points per game.

“He’s not the biggest kid, but he is so mentally tough and strong,” Mt. Pleasant coach TJ Kravits said. “That is the epitome of a winner. He isn’t going to let anybody stop him.”

Whitlock, who averages 21 points and often sprinkles in an array of other stats — 10 rebounds here, nine steals or eight assists there — has become one of the most dynamic players in the WPIAL.

Watch a Belle Vernon game and see if you don’t find yourself reveling in Whitlock’s performance. That flash-bang drive to the rim. That steal and dish. That game-changing effort.

Opposing coaches have referred to him as a “blur” because of his speed.

“He is almost unstoppable when he is playing in space,” Yough coach Jim Nesser said. “He plays a complete 32 minutes, and it’s hard to gameplan for him. Forget the X’s and O’s — he is an old-school playground player.”

Simply, Whitlock takes hold of situations on the floor and owns them.

“I have coached a lot of good ones, and he’s right up there,” Belle Vernon coach Joe Salvino said. “He is such a competitor. He does things sometimes, and you wonder, how did he do that? People say how tough Monessen kids are. Well, Belle Vernon kids don’t back down, either.”

Whitlock, who also is a supremely talented football player, recently was honored by Belle Vernon for reaching the 1,000-point milestone for his career. He hit the mark as a sophomore last season in a WPIAL championship game loss to Highlands, and has added to the total with layups, pull-up jumpers, 3-pointers and, of course, many of his patented, high-arcing floaters in the lane.

“Not too many make it out of Monessen,” Whitlock said, reflecting on where he draws his motivation from and where he gets his grit. “That encourages me to go harder. I have surrounded myself with the right people who push me to do better.”

Whitlock, who had 1,276 career points heading into Friday — 789 in a season-and-a-half at Belle Vernon — is not satisfied.

“Now I want 2,000,” he said.

His career total (including his Monessen points), if recognized by Belle Vernon among its all-timers, would put him fourth in program history behind Vince Graham (2,394), Jacob Dudzinski (1,436) and Matt Rowland (1,407).

“Playing with Dev is something else,” Leopards junior guard Tyler Kovatch said. “I love playing with the kid because he always comes to the games ready to play. When Dev has the ball, things go through my mind like, ‘Be ready, he’s gonna make a play happen. He’s gonna drive. He’s gonna ask for a screen. Go get a rebound.’ You gotta be ready because he likes his no-look passes.”

Whitlock said his most positive influence is his brother, Vaughn Taylor, who played one season with him at Monessen.

“Whether it was football or basketball, I grew up in an area where you played football in someone’s yard or you found a basketball court somewhere,” Whitlock said. “My brother was always there with me. He helped make me better.”

As with many standout athletes, sports run in his blood. His sister, Nychole, was a talented basketball player and a 1,000-point scorer at Monessen. She played with future Notre Dame guard Charel Allen and won WPIAL and PIAA Class A titles in 2003-04.

His uncle, “Nando” Whitlock, was a gifted scorer in the early 1980s.

Family is important to Devin Whitlock.

He wears another tattoo on his arm with a bible verse that reminds him of his late grandmother, Rose. She would have been impressed with his fast progress.

His mom’s name, Crissy, is written in ink on the side of his neck.

“It’s heaven-sent,” Salvino said of Whitlock’s talent. “Devin is a special kind of kid. I don’t care who he’s playing against or what the competition is, he’s going to prove himself.”

Like Whitlock, Salvino has made a transition to Belle Vernon. Both left feelings for Monessen behind but don’t forget their roots.

Whitlock said he is now “Belle Vernon at heart.”

No matter the uniform, school colors or exit off Route 70, Salvino thinks Whitlock is simply a gem of a player.

“The game has changed so much since I started coaching,” said Salvino, who guided Monessen for 37 years before coming to Belle Vernon in 2018. “There was no 3-point line when I started. Everything is so spaced out now and wide. Devin loves to play that way because he sees the floor so well. We don’t run a ton of plays, but we run our offense no matter what teams do on defense.”

Belle Vernon knows who to put its trust into with a game on the line.

“If there’s 10 seconds left in a game and we need a bucket, give Dev the ball and everyone get out of the way,” Kovatch said. “He’s the one you want to go one-on-one with someone, and you know he will give a show for that last bucket.”

Fearlessly.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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