New BYU women’s basketball coach is betting on herself
Basketball is a major part of life in the Whiting household.
Parents Amber and Trent both played college basketball. Trent played professionally overseas for 12 years. Son Jace recently returned from a church mission and is going to play his freshman season at Boise State. Daughter Amari is a Top 30 high school player who has committed to play at Oregon.
So when Amber — who recently coached Burley (Idaho) High School to a state championship — decided to apply for the open BYU women’s basketball job, she knew it would be a big step that would affect her family.
“You’ve always put the kids and the family first,” Trent Whiting told his wife. “Bet on yourself for once.”
Amber Whiting is doing just that.
She is the new BYU women’s basketball coach as of Wednesday, a move that puts a high school coach without any college coaching experience in a challenging spot, just a year from the Cougars entering the Big 12.
Amber Whiting knows that challenge is a big one.
“I’ve been around basketball all my life,” Whiting said. “Basketball is basketball. Yes, this is a different level and yes, it’s a higher level but I’m excited for the opportunity. Every great coach has an opportunity to start somewhere and this is mine.”
Amber Whiting said she got the OK from Jace, who starts his career at Boise State in June, and Amari, though her daughter was reluctant to consider the move at first.
“I feel like for her to have a new high school coach is something that would be a good challenge to push her and make her grow,” Amber Whiting said. “She came around to it. She supported me by putting it out on Twitter and I appreciated that. We’ve got to figure out the best fit for her in Provo or the surrounding area.”
BYU Director of Athletics Tom Holmoe said Amber Whiting possess all the attributes needed to be successful at the collegiate level, despite her lack of experience.
“We haven’t changed coaches in women’s basketball for 21 years,” Holmoe said. “The Jeff Judkins era was filled with lots of wins, lots of excitement and a lot of good players. Now, we’re looking to the future. I was impressed with Amber. To be a college coach in any sport these days is very demanding. She came through with a great plan and was far and above the best of the candidates. It was exciting to know that she has a vision that matches or exceeds my vision for the woman’s program.”
Amber Whiting said she learned a lot about basketball and coaching while her husband was playing overseas.
“Trent played 12 years in Italy and basketball was everything for us,” she said. “I was always watching film with him and looking at game sets. I would read through everything he got to prepare for games.”
Amber Whiting also pointed to her high school game preparation as a plus.
“Having Amari on my team, and she’s ranked in the top 30 in the country, I had every defense thrown at me you can imagine,” she said. “Everything under the sun. I had to come into every single game prepared with hours of watching game film. My first year at Burley we won five games. Last year we were 25-1. You can see the growth in our player development and I think I bring that to the table.”
Whiting has already reached out to former coach Jeff Judkins and the players on the BYU roster.
“I called Juddy this morning,” she said. “I played for him when he was on the staff and he recruited Trent to BYU. I got his thoughts about a couple of things, like what staff to look at and the players. It was really insightful for me.”
Amber Whiting had current Cougar star Shaylee Gonzales set up a group chat with the rest of the team. Whiting has set up meetings with every one of the players over the next few days.
“I want to get to know them on a personal basis,” Whiting said. “My staff is my priority, but getting to know my girls — and they are my girls now — I’ve got to recruit them. They are my No. 1 priority right now.”
Whiting said she has talked to the Judkins’ staff members, including assistants Lee Cummard, Melanie Day and Ray Stewart. All three are out recruiting this weekend and still chose to go on the road even though they know there are no promises they will be retained.
“I was impressed they still went out,” Whiting said.
Whiting pointed to defense as the cornerstone of her coaching philosophy.
“I’m a defense-first coach,” she said. “Every single one of my practice plans, for as long as I can remember, if we’re going two hours the first hour is defense. Refs are almost uncomfortable because of the way we play. I like us to play so other teams don’t like to play us. Defense creates offense, so it travels. Defense wins championships and that’s the goal. So that’s where I start.”
Whiting sold herself to Holmoe and deputy athletic director Brian Santiago over a series of phone and personal interviews.
“Where I first started to feel she was the right person for the job was that the things she wanted, I wanted,” Holmoe said. “She’d asked about things I was looking for and not just match it but debate it. It was good to see her stand for what she wanted to do, not just what I wanted to do. My interest in her as the coach continued to rise and never stopped.”