When former BYU star Erin Thorn found out that Amber Whiting would be replacing Jeff Judkins as the program’s next women’s basketball coach, she was thrilled.

Thorn, who now runs a basketball academy in Las Vegas, and Whiting were teammates for one season with the Cougars in 2000-01. 

“She was competitive and hard-nosed. She worked hard,” Thorn said of Whiting’s playing days. “She played her role. She was a fiery personality and the player she was is the energy she takes into coaching.”

Whiting is the right fit for the right time for the program, according to Thorn.

“I think BYU needed kind of a refresh. That’s what she brings. A fiery personality. Willing to learn and willing to take suggestions. And also very smart,” she said. “Yes, she has no college experience but she’s probably sent 20 kids to Division I the last three years. It’s not like she doesn’t know what she’s doing. She coached an AAU team last year with eight girls that went on to Division I. That is college experience on high-level club basketball.

“Nothing against Juddy, he did a great job. But he got tired. It’s exhausting being a head coach and he did it for so many years,” Thorn continued. “It’s hard to keep that excitement and exuberance that you have in the beginning. She has that and it’s just her personality anyway.

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“She’s fiery and competitive and she’s willing to learn and grow to be the best. It’s a change that’s refreshing. She’s developed her daughter (Amari) into the player she is. She really knows how to develop talent. She’s energized.”

Whiting’s husband, Trent, said Amber and Thorn have been longtime friends and they’ve worked together.

“They work hand in hand to get players in AAU, skill development,” he said. “They’ve had a really solid relationship over the last 20 years.” 

The Cougars are entering their final season in the West Coast Conference before bolting for the Big 12. Thorn said Whiting is up to the challenge. 

“Honestly, candidates are limited with a BYU coaching position. I don’t know that anybody else applying has P5 experience. She’s building her staff right now and reaching out to some P5 experienced coaches,” Thorn said. “At the end of the day, coaching is coaching. It’s less about what conference you’re in and who you’re playing, and more about what you’re doing with the people you have in your program and how you’re developing them.

“She has that experience because in these high-level circuits, you play the same teams. Everybody scouts each other. It’s literally college prep. You’re doing a lot of the same things you do in college. It’s like a conference but a little bit bigger. You develop the same types of scouting reports and offensive and defensive adjustments based on who you’re playing. She knows how to do all that.”

Thorn said it’s important that Whiting put together a solid, experienced staff. She also added that Whiting has been immersed in the sport for many years. Whiting lived in Italy for 12 years while her husband, Trent, played professional basketball. 

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“Literally, her life was basketball. Yes, she was raising two kids. But even there in the basketball academies, when you play overseas, that’s all you’re doing is basketball,” Thorn said. “It’s your job and your world. You’re completely absorbed in it. That experience — that’s invaluable. And that’s professional level.”

During the search for a new coach, BYU administrators reached out to Thorn for her opinion. At the time, Thorn didn’t know that Whiting had applied.

That’s why she was surprised when Whiting was named the new coach, but she has no doubts about Whiting’s ability to do the job. 

“I called her immediately when I saw her name as the coach,” Thorn said. “I told her she would be great. This is exactly what BYU needs right now.”

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