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Whiting fueled by fight and hunger of BYU women’s hoops roster

By Darnell Dickson - | Jul 22, 2022

Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo

BYU's Emma Calvert (right) goes up for a shot against Loyola Marymount in the Marriott Center on Thursday, February 17, 2022.

New BYU women’s basketball coach Amber Whiting has almost reached a “ride-or-die” moment with her 2022-23 roster.

In a recent interview with Ben Criddle on ESPN 960, Whiting said there were a couple of transfer portal prospects who are considering the Cougars but aside from that, she has her team.

Whiting and her players are over halfway through summer workouts, which involve eight hours a week with four hours on the court and four hours in the weight room.

“We’re just about ready to move forward,” Whiting said. “The reason I feel that way is that the girls have been in the gym and working non-stop. They’ve been coming in on their own, too. They are really hungry and they really want it, so I’m going to bet on them.”

Whiting took the job just over two months ago, stepping in for the program’s most successful coach ever in Jeff Judkins, who retired. Coming from the high school ranks, Whiting has never been a college coach. In addition to taking over for Judkins, she has to replace the massive contribution of four terrific players (Paisley Harding, Maria Albiero, Tegan Graham and Sara Hamson) who exhausted their eligibility. Last week, two-time West Coast Conference Player of the Year Shaylee Gonzales transferred to Texas.

Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo

BYU's Nani Falatea warms up before a game against Gonzaga at the Marriott Center on Saturday, February 19, 2022.

“There’s no replacing Shaylee,” Whiting said. “She’s an amazing player. I saw her this morning and gave her a hug. I wanted to coach her and that was hard for me, but I want nothing but the best for her. She said she has given BYU four years of her life and she wanted to see what else is out there. She had to do what was right for Shaylee.”

Whiting ticked off impressions of her players during summer workouts, many of whom will be asked to step up from a supporting role to one as a starter.

“Nani (Falatea) has moved over to running the point,” Whiting said. “Last year she was more off the ball. Having her at the point, she’s a great playmaker. She’s creating a lot of shots for people. I coached Emma (Calvert) when she was younger but I’ve been really surprised. She’s really developed her 3-point game and has one of the quickest releases on the team. She’s definitely one who is coming along fast.

“Lauren (Gustin), she’s like my cheat code, honestly. She averaged a double-double last year. She needs to do that and more. Rose (Bubakar), Kaylee (Smiler), Amanda (Barcello) and Ari (Arielle Mackey-Williams), they are all wanting that extra time on the court and all the shots that come along with it. Heather (Hamson), she’s really surprised me lately. She has really come along with her post play and to see her developing is fun to see.”

Whiting said she and her coaching staff made the team breakfast on the very first day of practice then had a long discussion with them.

Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo

BYU's Lauren Gustin (left) battles for a rebound against Loyola Marymount in the Marriott Center on Thursday, February 17, 2022.

“We talked about the pillars we want to build here, on the team and with our culture,” she said. “We wanted them to know that this was a safe space and we needed to be able to talk about things. I was never going to play mind games with them. I wanted them to know who I am. I’m real. We’ll face every fear, we’ll go into it with faith and every effort and work.”

Whiting’s coaching staff includes Lee Cummard, Morgan Bailey, Aaron Kallhoff and most recently Natalie Lainhart as director of basketball operations.

Cummard, who was initially an assistant in the BYU men’s program for Dave Rose then with the women’s team for Judkins, recruited both of Whiting’s children: Jace, who recently returned from a church mission and will play at Boise State, and Amari, one of the nation’s top players who has committed to Oregon.

“I didn’t hesitate to name Lee associate head coach,” Whiting said. “I’ve know him for a long time and it felt right. He brings so much fun to the team. He’s a kid at heart and can be goofy in the moment but he knows when to get serious. He always keeps me on my toes.”

Bailey is a former Cougar who has played professionally overseas and most recently was an assistant at Utah Valley University.

“She was an amazing player who knows the intricacies of post play and the skill development. She also sees how defensive-minded I am and we have the same philosophy with an aggressive defense. Having her on the staff as an alumnus is huge.”

Whiting said Kallhoff is a great recruiter and his experience coaching in the Big 12 is invaluable to the staff.

“He was really the missing piece,” she said. “He brings extra energy with his personality. The connections he brings are phenomenal. The first workouts he was here, the girls were like, ‘Oh, my gosh, give me more.’ He and his family wanted to be here. All four of us are completely different but we all bring something to compliment each other.”

Despite losing 71% of the offense and 576 games of career experience from a team that won the West Coast Conference regular season title and went 26-4 last season, Whiting refuses to call 2022-23 a rebuilding year.

“I want it to be a growth year for them,” Whiting said. “A lot of these players didn’t get that experience last year. I love the fight they have in practice every day. There has been improvement in leaps and bounds. When we don’t like the effort, we go again so they know they’re not going to get off easily. I know we lost so much, and that’s OK. A lot of teams lost players. But I love to look in their eyes and see the fight and the hunger that is there.”


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