Three seasons ago, Jason Whitens and Dawson Bilski helped North Central win their third straight Class D state title in basketball.
On Monday, Whitens and Bilski became the fourth and fifth Jets to have their jerseys retired in front of a full crowd prior to North Central’s 65-53 win over Bark River-Harris.
The pair helped the Jets win three straight Class D state championships in 2015-17.
Whitens, a redshirt sophomore guard at Western Michigan, wore No. 30 and holds North Central school records in career points, rebounds, assists and steals. He went an incredible 108-1 as a varsity player. He scored 2,062 points, which ranks fifth all-time in the U.P. He is one of only 50 players in the state of Michigan to score 2,000 points.
Whitens was also named Class D Player of the Year in 2016 and 2017, a four-time All-U.P. Dream Team selection and three-time Skyline Central Conference MVP.
“It’s great to just come back and reminisce,” said Whitens, a redshirt sophomore starting for Western Michigan. “Around this time of year with the holidays, it’s just good to be around family and friends. Getting to share tonight with (Bilski) was just really special.”
Bilski, a junior guard at Michigan Tech, wore No. 14 and scored 1,266 points in his career, earning all-state honors in 2016 and 2017. He holds school records for 3-pointers in a game (10), season (76), and career (182). He was also the MVP of the 2017 U.P. All-Star game.
“I want to thank all my teammates, because if it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t have did everything that I did in my high school career,” said Bilski, a junior starter at Michigan Tech. “As a team, it’s just so awesome.. all those state titles. I’m just thankful to be able to see them.”
With each player having a busy college schedule, this is the first time in three years they were able to be home at the same time. The Jets also invited back members of their teams from 2013-17 to help celebrate their phenomenal 131-5 run that ended with three straight state titles. Their former coach, Adam Mercier, sent out a group text before the season to try bring them all back together.
“It feels awesome,” Bilski said. “You get that week off from basketball and school, and I get to come celebrate this night with my teammates and my family and my friends. It’s been an awesome night.”
As good as Whitens and Bilski were, the Jets could not have had as much success as they did without their supporting cast — something each player knows all too well.
“We couldn’t have done it without them. They were out there putting as much work and sweat in as us, and they really just boosted us and gave us the confidence to do what we do,” Whitens said. “It’s just great seeing all the guys again, having those memories come back and them attributing to what we’ve been able to accomplish as a whole together. It’s really special.”
Whitens and Bilski each refer to the other as a brother. During the jersey retirement, both talked about how much the other meant to their success.
“It was just great being able to do that with him, because every game since we were little, he was always there with me,” Whitens said. “So tonight just seemed perfect to have him out there by my side and kind of help me through it. It was just great to have him along for the ride.”
“It was really fun, I enjoyed it. I got to retire my number with his number as well — and we’re brothers — so it was a great experience just to go out there,” he said. “I know if I would have been out there by myself it would have been really weird and I would have been really awkward, but having him out there made it a lot easier to talk.”
The Jets honored their state title teams at halftime and then watched their current team rally past Bark River-Harris to cap off what will go down as a really special night in North Central history.
“When you come back and enter this gym, everything just floods right back and everything just sets back in — seeing the guys, being with each other, spending time together — everything just kind of floods back,” Whitens said.