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Amber Whiting is ready to be BYU Cougars women’s basketball coach, Trent Whiting says

Trent Whiting still remembers the day he met Amber Russell.

It was at a gym at Snow College in Ephraim in 1998. He was playing on the men’s basketball team; Amber played for the women’s team.

“I couldn’t stop chasing her after that,” Trent remembered. “I had to convince her that I was worth looking at her. From the day I met her, it’s been basketball ever since.”

Their courtship consisted of hanging out on a bus while going to places around the West for games, as the men’s and women’s teams at Snow traveled together.

“Literally, we got to know each other on long bus rides,” Trent said.

Trent and Amber eventually married, the summer right after she committed to Weber State and he committed to the University of Utah.

To split the difference in their respective commutes to Ogden and Salt Lake City, they resided in Bountiful.

“We went two different directions and met up at night,” Trent said, “when we weren’t on the road or traveling or playing.”

The Whitings ended up transferring to the same school — BYU — to finish their collegiate careers. But it wasn’t like they were a package deal.

Trent was recruited to BYU by Jeff Judkins, who had left Utah’s coaching staff to become the director of basketball operations for the Cougars.

Trent played a key role in helping BYU turn around its men’s program in his only season in a Cougars uniform.

In 2000-01, the Cougars won the MWC Tournament under coach Steve Cleveland — it marks the last time BYU accomplished that feat — and earned its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1995.

BYU’s Trent Whiting, center, is hugged by Terrell Lyday during after Whiting hit a 3-pointer and was fouled on March 8, 2001.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

Amber was recruited by the BYU women’s coaching staff, then got pregnant while redshirting during the year Trent played for BYU.

She gave birth to their son, Jace, before Amber played one season for the Cougars.

Not long after Amber finished her college hoops career, Judkins became the head coach of the women’s program.

More than 20 years later, on May 18, Amber Whiting was named as Judkins’ successor at BYU.

For the Whitings, it’s come full circle.

“It is a small world, especially in our (Latter-day Saint) community and how many coaches can even apply for the job, right? It was really crazy that it worked out that way,” Trent said.

“It’s pretty cool how it’s all come home.”

‘It really happened quickly’

More than a month before Amber was hired by BYU as the head coach of the women’s team, she asked Trent, “What am I going to do when Amari’s gone?”

Amari, the Whitings’ daughter, is one of the top high school prospects in the country. She’s already committed to Oregon. Amari was gone, leaving the Whitings as empty-nesters for a few days.

“I’ve got to figure out what I want to do,” Amber told her husband.

Trent asked, “What are you passionate about?”

Amber said she still wanted to be a coach—maybe at the college level.

“I was like, really?” Trent said.

A week after that exchange, BYU announced that Judkins was retiring. Amber decided to pursue the position.

As the interviewing process became more intense, “I was like, ‘Holy crap. My wife might be a college coach soon,’” Trent said.

“It happened really quickly. There’s a personal conviction side, to make sure she’s doing the right thing. Once she felt like she can be really good at this and she really wanted to do it and help these girls and work with them, then it was all in.”

Amid the interviewing and hiring process, the Whitings’ son, Jace, who is committed to play at Boise State, returned from his mission to Finland.

Amber met with Elder Jeffrey R. Holland for an interview. Later, deputy athletic director Brian Santiago asked her to travel to Provo.

“I had to go to Fresno for work. I told her to have fun,” Trent said. “She still had no clue that she had the job. She got down there and told me, ‘I got the job.’”

Right after she was hired, she got on a Zoom call with the players. The next day, athletic director Tom Holmoe talked to reporters about why he hired Amber Whiting.

Reaction to the hire

For Trent, the fact that his wife is now in charge of the BYU women’s basketball program hasn’t quite sunk in.

The hiring of Amber Whiting caught a lot of people by surprise. After all, she has no college coaching experience.

She was previously the head coach of the Burley (Idaho) High team, where she enjoyed tremendous success, and she’s been an AAU coach for years, developing a number of Division I players.

For those who have learned more about Amber’s background, the hiring makes sense, despite the lack of coaching experience at the college level.

“For the most part,” Trent said of the general reaction, “it’s been awesome.”

One of the first calls Trent received was from Judkins.

“He was the one that recruited me to BYU. I played for his brother by him (at Snow College). He was pumped,” Trent said. “He wanted to tell me how excited he was that Amber got the job.

“Anything she needed, he’d be there to help her. It was overwhelming support from a lot of people who, 20-something years ago, were the nucleus of BYU support, and it all came flooding right back.”

But the reaction hasn’t been all positive. Trent understands why some are apprehensive about the hire, especially considering that the Cougars will be joining the Big 12 in 2023-24.

“There’s been a little bit of negativity, wondering, what are we doing hiring a high school coach?” he said. “Which, hey, no problem. I would expect a little bit of curiosity and wanting to get to know Amber. We spent 12 years in Italy after I left BYU. We were gone.”

Sure, Trent, as Amber’s husband, is biased on the subject, but he’s convinced Amber can do the job, and do it at an extremely high level.

“I’ve watched Amber Coach for a lot of years now. One hundred percent I’m biased, but at the same time, I’m going to keep it real. Amber can coach. She’s been part of basketball her whole life. The difference is, it’s going to be a different level,” Trent said. “The work is the same, the grind is the same. Don’t forget that she’s going to work with a different caliber of player that will go against that different level of competition as well. That’s one thing I’ve noticed.

“If you can coach, you can coach. Then it’s about changing levels and adapting and figuring out the nuances and intricacies of those different levels,” he continued. “The key for Amber is, surround yourself with a good staff that can help you be successful, and recruit the crap out of the best LDS girls that we can get and fill in the holes where needed. When you get talent, it makes up for a lot of other things.”

Basketball in Italy

As Trent pointed out, he and Amber spent 12 years in Italy as he played basketball professionally. That experience had a major impact on Amber from a basketball standpoint.

“It’s impossible to be married to someone that’s playing at that level and not be involved in it,” Trent said.

Amber saw firsthand the grind of professional basketball, from skill development, sacrifice, scouting reports, game plans and strategy.

“She was heavily involved in recognizing with me what it takes to be successful. The professional level is a different chapter than college. Typically, at a professional level, you’re looking to play off a mismatch every possession,” he said. “Those are some of the things Amber took away from being over there in Italy with me.

“Even in high school, how do we consistently get a ball screen to get a switch to where we can capitalize on the mismatch? Amber’s no stranger to the college level, having played it, and the professional level, on how to generate mismatches to take advantage of the other teams’ weakness. It’s going to pay big dividends for her.”

‘Supporting Amber 100%’

BYU fans will be able to judge Amber’s coaching ability by watching her, and by taking stock of the win-loss record.

For now, Amber’s focus is on convincing the BYU players she’s inherited that she’s the right person for the job.

“Right now, there’s apprehensiveness because it’s change. None of those girls were recruited by Amber,” Trent said. “She knows many of them, but not all of them. Most of them aren’t on campus right now. That’s what her strong suit is. Ella she’s a grinder on the court but she’s the most personable person off the court.

“She wants to make sure these girls are succeeding in life. I think once they have an opportunity to get to know each other and start building that trust, there will be a lot of good things in store.”

What will Trent’s role be in helping his wife be a successful coach at the Division I level?

“I don’t see me not being involved or supporting Amber 100%. We’ve done it that way our whole lives,” he said. “When she coaches at the high school, I’m analyzing game film with her every week and every game, helping her put together a scouting report.

“She’s not going to need it to that extent at the college level because she’ll have a great staff, but there’s no way that I’m not going to help and be apart of that to some degree to make sure that she is successful.”

For now, Trent’s main focus is helping Amari, whose life got turned upside down with the news that her mom is now coaching at BYU.

“For a 17-year-old, it’s a lot. At first, when she heard Amber got the job, she was super excited for Amber. But at the same time, she was scared and wondering, ‘Where am I going to play high school now, and who’s going to coach me?’ That’s all we’re focused on right now — how can we make this as smooth a transition for her as possible.”

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Amber and Trent Whiting pose for a family photo with their children, Amari and Jace.

Trent’s not too worried about Jace and his situation. At Boise State, coach Leon Rice recently hired former Broncos basketball star Roberto Bergersen as an assistant coach.

Bergersen played in Italy during the time that Trent was playing there.

“He’s one of my best friends,” Trent said. “Their kids played with our kids. We’ve been friends forever. I’m really feeling like I’m leaving Jace in good hands at Boise State. He’s just got to go do his thing and put in the work.

“I’m less concerned about his scenario as much as I’ve just got to get Amari acclimated and where she’s going to be going to high school. We’re going to try to rent a home fairly close to (BYU). What’s a good fit for her? It’s about finding good friends that she could finish her high school career with her. ”

These days, Trent keeps busy working as a sales manager for a Burley-based company that manufactures plant nutritionals for agriculture as well as for professional sports turfs and golf courses.

Basketball has always been a big part of the Whitings’ marriage and lives, from the day they met at Snow College, to their time at BYU, to the 12 years in Italy, to Burley and, now, back to BYU.

They’re ready for another ride together.

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Newly hired BYU women’s basketball coach Amber Whiting instructs players during workout in Provo with her new team last week.

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