Amber Whiting’s former players at Burley High say she is ready to make the big jump to BYU
Whiting guided the Burley Bobcats to a state championship in 2022 and she has established a reputation for the way she develops players and maximizes their talents
In the southern Idaho town of Burley (population: 10,476), people are buzzing about Wednesday afternoon’s surprising news.
At Burley High School (enrollment: about 1,000 students), the girls basketball coach, Amber Whiting, accepted the BYU women’s basketball head coaching job.
Whiting has no college coaching experience and she’s taking over a program that will be joining the Big 12 for the 2023-24 season.
For two of her former players at Burley High, twin sisters Sydney and Lynzey Searle, it certainly was a development they didn’t see coming.
“Everyone was pretty surprised by it. She’s going from coaching 4A high school girls basketball in Idaho to a really big college,” Lynzey said Thursday. “The news spread pretty fast. They’re all really surprised, but everyone’s excited and proud of her.”
To Lynzey and Sydney, Whiting’s hiring by BYU also makes a lot of sense.
Whiting guided the Burley Bobcats to a state championship in 2022 and she has established a reputation for the way she develops players and maximizes their talents.
“It’s not that surprising because she’s such a good coach,” Sydney said. “It wouldn’t surprise me that she would get a job offer like that.”
Whiting’s daughter, Amari, a Burley High star, is a junior. As one of the top prospects in the country, Amari has committed to play at Oregon and she reportedly plans to attend Burley High as a senior.
“I wasn’t expecting Amber to leave because Amari still has another year of high school. Her family comes first in everything. That’s just how their family is,” Lynzey said. “I was surprised that Amber was going to take a job somewhere else. I was expecting her to coach Amari for her senior year.”
But Lynzey has no doubts about how Whiting will fare as BYU’s coach.
“I think she’ll be amazing. She’s the best coach I ever had. I don’t think it could get much better than her, honestly,” she said. “She was always prepared and she always spent time learning plays and watching film. She’s always invested in everything, making sure we were prepared, also. She’ll be awesome.”
‘She’s tough and smart’
Whiting is the first woman to ascend to the head coaching job for the BYU women’s basketball team in 25 years, when Soni Adams coached the Cougars from 1994-97.
Whiting takes over for Jeff Judkins, who led the Cougars to a 456-204 record (a .691 winning percentage). He accumulated the most wins by a head coach in BYU basketball history, men or women. Judkins’ teams made 10 NCAA Tournament appearances and advanced to the Sweet 16 twice.
Meanwhile, Whiting is a BYU alum. As a player, after stints at Snow College and Weber State, she transferred to BYU for her final season, averaging five points per game in 2000-01, the year before Judkins became the Cougars’ head coach.
Whiting graduated from BYU in 2021 with a degree and teaching credential in history and a minor in psychology.
Her husband, Trent Whiting, played for the BYU men’s team for one season, also in 2000-01, after transferring from Utah. After BYU, the Whitings spent 12 years in Italy, where Trent played professional basketball.
Lisa Osguthorpe Baxter played with Amber Whiting at BYU during that 2000-01 season.
“My memory of her is, she’s really tough, really diligent, really dedicated,” she said. “She played really hard over the summer before the season. She’s just really tough and smart. She’s a point guard, right? Point guards are like coaches anyway. Look at Jason Kidd and what he’s doing. Point guards have the highest basketball IQ on the court. … Basketball has been a huge part of her family. When her husband was playing abroad, she was a part of it. I’m sure all they talk about is basketball in that home. She loves the game. She played in the right way and obviously she coaches it the right way. She’s had a ton of success at the high school level and clubs. I like Amber. She’s a really good person.”
There were several other qualified candidates for the job, including Judkins’ assistant coaches, Lee Cummard, Melanie Day and Ray Stewart; Utah Valley coach Dan Nielson, a BYU alum; former BYU player Nancy Seljaas Warner, the head coach at Lone Peak High; and Jaime White, the head coach at Fresno State.
Few outside BYU’s administration would have listed Whiting as a candidate.
“I was a little surprised because they went outside of Juddy’s coaching tree. They got somebody totally new. But I totally trust them,” Baxter said. “I’m a little surprised that they didn’t go in-house. But it means she must have been awesome in the interviews. She must have killed it. She must have an awesome plan and vision for what she wants to implement at BYU because she has no college experience.
“I’m thrilled for her. The interview process is intense … (athletic director) Tom Holmoe knows what he’s doing. Tom, (deputy athletic director) Brian (Santiago) and (senior associate athletic director/senior woman administrator) Liz (Darger) are going to go with their gut and she’s got to be the best person for the job. I’m excited for her. She’ll be great.”
Whiting possesses the qualities to be successful at this level, Baxter said.
“What it comes down to is, you have to have somebody that knows the game, somebody that loves the game,” she said. “You have to be passionate about it. It’s a hard job. Coaching is the hardest job in the world. You’re traveling all of the time, and you have 17 more children to take care of. You have to have a ton of passion.”
‘She’s kind of a big deal’
Sydney and Lynzey Searle played for four seasons under Whiting. But their time with Whiting could have been cut short.
After playing for her as freshmen, they weren’t certain they were going to play as sophomores. They were “stressed out” due to the demands of academics, basketball and other activities.
When she became aware of the situation, Whiting showed her concern for the girls, and invited them to her house to talk.
“She told us that she would make sure that we were taken care of and that it would all be fine. She would work with us and to be open with her if we were feeling stressed,” Sydney said. “It was nice because obviously she cared about the sports side of things but she was also good about making us feel good mentally and helping us to not get burned out.”
The Bobcats improved every year in four seasons under Whiting’s tutelage. They enjoyed three straight 20-win seasons, including a 25-1 record last season.
“The first year she coached, when I was a freshman, we would have certain time for us to work on certain skills,” Sydney said. “From that first year to the next, we were a whole different team. Our skills had improved so much. Then the next year, it was even better. This last year, it was crazy.”
In 2021-22, Burley captured the state championship. Whiting helped her players prepare for that kind of success.
“In the offseason, Amber made sure we put in the work. For me, and a lot of the other girls on our team, we played fall sports. We couldn’t be at practice all the time,” Lynzey said. “She always gave us resources and made sure we did have time. She would let us come to her house to shoot at her gym when it was convenient for us. That helped a lot.
“She always had faith in us. She always told us she knew there was something special about our team. She never doubted us. She was very invested in our team — in the offseason, during the season, during the summer, all the time. We were one of her first priorities. … We were always getting messages from her and she was helping us get better.”
While Whiting demands a lot from her players, she also wants them to enjoy themselves.
“Amber made summer ball super fun for us. We had practices every day and tournaments on the weekends,” Sydney said. “When we would travel, she’d always make sure we had good food and went to bed early.
“But she’d allow us to have fun. We’d make TikToks before games and things like that. She was encouraging us to have fun but mentally prepared to play. We were there to get better.”
Sydney and Lynzey also became good friends with Amari Whiting and the Whiting family.
“Amari is also very competitive. She’s really determined. Her parents have played a big role in that,” Sydney said. “They train her. They’re dedicated to helping her as well. They’re very close. … They are literally each other’s best friends.”
What is Amber Whiting’s demeanor on the sidelines during games?
“She holds us accountable. Sometimes on the sidelines, people will say, ‘She looks like she’s really mean.’ But in the games, we’re all very competitive and she is, too,” Lynzey said. “She wants us to do our best and if we’re not, and she knows that we can do better, she let us know that we can do better.
“But she does it in a way that makes you want to be better, not in a way that puts us down.”
That’s one reason why Lynzey believes BYU hired Whiting.
“It’s the way she handles female athletes. For me and others on our team, we’re really hard on ourselves. That’s something Amber was always good about, telling us we were good enough. That’s important, especially for college athletes. It can get really stressful at times. That’s something Amber is really good at.”
Sydney and Lynzey earned scholarships to run track at Weber State next fall. They credit Whiting for helping prepare them to compete at the collegiate level, albeit in a different sport.
“Her coaching helped me understand what it would be like to be on a college team,” Lynzey said. “She talked to us about it a lot, too. She helped us understand that we only get this chance once.”
For the Searles, the idea that Whiting has made the jump from Burley to BYU has barely sunk in.
“It’s really crazy. So many people have talked about it. I got a group text from my brothers, who were on our scout team,” Sydney said. “They sent me the message in a screen shot. ‘Did you guys know about this?’
“It was the first I heard about it. We were all really surprised. My track team is talking about it. I was like, ‘She’s kind of a big deal.’”