A memorable game last season defined how this season has gone for Nasir Whitlock.

Late in the 2021-22 regular season, DeLaSalle's star guard had a chance to get the Islanders to overtime, or even victory, against powerful Wayzata, but his last-second shot was off the mark, and the Islanders lost 60-58.

"I missed a game-winner," he said wistfully, then recalled the words of DeLaSalle's head coach then, Travis Bledsoe. "He told me to keep my head up, I'll get another chance."

Three weeks later, the chance arose. Whitlock scored the game-winning points in a back-and-forth, 69-67 victory over South St. Paul in the Class 3A, Section 4 final.

"That stuck with me," Whitlock said. "It fuels me to this day."

That fuel propelled him to become the Star Tribune's Metro Player of the Year for the 2022-23 boys basketball season.

In basketball he's a talented scorer and facilitator. In life he's a noticeably mature young man. The words "yes, sir" and "no, sir" and "thank you" are regular parts of conversation with Whitlock. Basketball is important in his life, and that will continue at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, but he's going to get where he's going respectfully and with appreciation for all who have helped him.

"He's a got a high level of maturity that is rare to see in athletes still in school," DeLaSalle coach Todd Anderson said. "He understands there will be a lot of life left when he's done with basketball."

On the court, Whitlock is a force of nature. He's not tall for his sport, standing 6-2. He's certainly skilled, but he's not going to wow observers with speed or leaping ability.

Tenacity and focus elevate Whitlock. If the Islanders need a basket, he'll get it, despite being the consistent object of opponents' defensive attention.

If a clutch rebound or loose ball is available, it will inevitably end up in Whitlock's hands. Need someone to make the right pass? Settle the team down? Make the inspirational comment? Guess who fills those roles.

"He rises to every challenge," Anderson said. "He wants that responsibility. Everyone has fears of failure, but he's not afraid of it. He's got this amazing confidence."

The accomplishment Whitlock trumpets loudest is not his 27.7-points-per-game scoring average, nor the school-record 52 points he scored in a 91-78 victory over Hopkins on Jan. 28.

It's that 3.87 GPA.

"And I made the high honor roll five out of six semesters," Whitlock said. "Those are probably my biggest school accomplishments."

Anderson turned up the volume on that: "He's done it at a school that challenges you. It doesn't come easy here."

Basketball at DeLaSalle has its own level of authority. Whitlock led DeLaSalle to its 12th consecutive state tournament berth, its 28th state tournament appearance. The Islanders will be playing for their state-leading 13th title when the Class 3A tournament begins Tuesday.

"I'm proud to play for DeLaSalle," Whitlock said. "We have some assistant coaches who played here, and they've helped me a lot this year. It's not just about basketball. DeLaSalle is a big part of who I am spiritually, who I am academically. It's made me a better person."