Brigham Young University women’s basketball coach Amber Whiting works on a ball handling drill with a young athlete during July 18, 2023, “Big 12 Hoops in the Park” coaching clinic at storied Rucker Park in Harlem, New York. (Photo courtesy of Big 12 Conference)
BYU's Amber Whiting imparts hoops/life skills at Harlem’s storied Rucker Park
Latter-day Saint basketball coach teams up with fellow Big 12 coaches for a youth clinic on New York outdoor court made famous by many of the sport’s legends.
By Jason Swensen
31 Jul 2023
For basketball aficionados, Rucker Park is sacred ground.
Hoops legends ranging from Wilt Chamberlain and “Dr. J” to Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durrant have showcased their talents on the storied outdoor court in Harlem, New York.
Brigham Young University women’s basketball coach Amber Whiting has been around the sport all of her life. There’s not much she hasn’t seen.
After all, she played college ball at three different schools (Snow, Weber State and BYU), and accompanied her husband, Trent, to Italy where he played pro ball for over a decade. Whiting’s rich coaching resume includes a state championship high school team, elite club programs and, for the past year, a Division 1 head coaching job in Provo. Meanwhile, both of her children — Jace and Amari — are Division 1 ballplayers at Boise State and BYU, respectively.
But Whiting happily admits to a few “fangirl' moments when she recently grabbed a basketball, bounced it a few times and sunk a shot at legendary Rucker Park.
“I just tried to soak it all in,” Whiting told Church Ball Magazine. “There’s so much history at Rucker — the best of the best have played here.”
The Latter-day Saint coach was in Harlem on July 18th doing what she does best — teaching the game’s fundamentals to young people. Whiting was joined on the Rucker hardcourt by several other Big 12 basketball coaches — including BYU men’s coach and fellow Latter-day Saint Mark Pope — for a youth clinic dubbed “Big 12 Hoops in the Park.”
Eleven Big 12 basketball coaches — including BYU’s Amber Whiting, front row second to the left, and Mark Pope, back row third to the right — participated in a skills clinic for youth on July 18, 2023, at Harlem’s Rucker Park. (Photo courtesy of Big 12 Conference)
For Whiting and Pope, their participation signaled their school’s maiden year of Big 12 membership. Other conference coaches taking part in “Big 12 Hoops in the Park” included, from the women’s side, Katrina Merriweather (Cincinnati), Ron Hughey (Houston), Jeff Mittie (Kansas State) and Krista Gerlich (Texas Tech).
Big 12 men’s coaches included Scott Drew (Baylor), Wes Miller (Cincinnati), Jerome Tang (Kansas State), Mike Boynton (Oklahoma State) and Jamie Dixon (TCU).
Besides running the kids through a variety of drills, the Big 12 coaches talked hoops and life with the young ballplayers during a Q&A session.
So how was Big 12 newcomer Whiting treated by her new conference coaching rivals?
“It’s like a big tall family now,” she said, laughing. “We know that we’re all going to go head-to-head and toe-to-toe….But it was so much fun just being able to teach the game of basketball — and talk smack to each other.”
Whiting conducted a ball handling drill with Kansas State coaches Mittie and Tang.
“When it was my turn [to teach], I made sure all the kids knew the Cougar hand sign and we all did the Cougar cheer at the end,” she said.
BYU women’s basketball coach Amber Whiting teaches a youngster the “Y” hand sign during July 18, 2023, skills clinic at Rucker Park in Harlem, N.Y. (Photo courtesy of the Big 12 Conference)
A relatively new college basketball coach, Whiting found plenty of opportunities to “pick the brains” of her veteran Big 12 colleagues. All were open and generous.
“I asked the coaches about things like finding a balance in the coaching world and what things they do to help athletes be successful and meet the challenges that they are facing,” she said. “It was not about X’s and O’s, but everything outside of that.”
Whiting and her fellow BYU coaches across all Cougar sports will face a unique challenge in the Big 12. They are expected by their fans and followers to put a competitive product on the court and field — even while upholding the mission of the Church-sponsored school to assist others in “their quest for perfection and eternal life.”
“My players come first and foremost,” Whiting said. “I always put them and their experiences of what we’re doing first because if they have not bought in — if they are not willing to give 110% — then we’re not going to get anywhere.”
Beyond that, Whiting said she has surrounded herself with good people “who know the game.”
Whenever asked about BYU’s unique mission, “I just try to be myself… that’s the Lord’s way — and I always want to make sure that I’m putting that first and foremost in my mind.”
Whiting said she was promised during interviews prior to taking the BYU job “that If I do things the right way, everything else takes care of itself.”
BYU enjoys a global following that includes loyal fans in Lawrence, Ames, Waco, Lubbock and every other Big 12 college town. The Cougar coach is excited to see pockets of blue-clad fans at each stop this season.
“Having BYU fans all over the country helps us for sure.”
Whiting is no longer a D1 “rookie.” She is a different coach than she was a year ago when she took the reins of the women’s basketball program.
“I have learned to delegate, because I wasn’t very good at that. I’ve also learned to trust my gut. I can’t always make everybody happy, so I’ve just got to go with what I feel good about.”