Senior Sami Whitcomb survived coaching change at Washington to excel on the court for the Huskies.
Careers usually don’t happen in reverse.
When senior Sami Whitcomb enrolled at Washington, the Huskies were one of the top four teams in the Pac-10. Washington made annual trips to postseason tournaments. And massive, rowdy crowds weren’t rare.
As the years progressed, the erosion began.
Washington is no longer a conference threat and Whitcomb’s four-year career, to outsiders, will be remembered more for what was lost than what might have been gained.
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“My four years here have been pretty dramatic,” said Whitcomb, one of five seniors whose final regular-season game at Edmundson Pavilion is Sunday. “It’s crazy because you come in with all of these people and you make plans in your head where you’re going to be each year. It’s exciting, especially with certain players that you have chemistry with … Then they leave and you have to replan and refocus what you’re going to do. So, it’s tough.”
Current Seattle University assistant coach Kristen O’Neill remembered Whitcomb’s recruiting visit. O’Neill was a senior then, leading the Huskies to a first-round NCAA tournament upset. She was enthusiastic about what Whitcomb could bring to an offensive-minded team.
Whitcomb, a three-time all-league player at Buena High School in Ventura, Calif., was soon caught in a program in transition. Athletic director Todd Turner fired coach June Daugherty after Whitcomb’s freshman season, replacing her with Tia Jackson.
During her sophomore season, Turner wouldn’t release unhappy players from letters of intent they had signed when Daugherty was coach.
The Huskies finished that season 13-18, losing in the first round of the Pac-10 tournament.
“We all had to reevaluate our expectations and what we wanted from being here,” Whitcomb said of playing for a coach who had not recruited her. The remaining players called themselves “The Lucky Seven.”
“For the ones that stayed, that’s what they established,” Whitcomb said. “Once I did that, it was what I had to do as a player. I’ve never been a good defender, so it was figuring out what I need to do to get that defensive mindset.”
As a junior, Whitcomb was the best player on a UW squad that set conference and school records for margins of defeat, first losing to NCAA champion Connecticut by 58 points and then No. 2 Stanford by 77.
Whitcomb is a senior now, and the closest Washington will come to the NCAA tournament is hosting first- and second-round games March 20-23 at Hec Ed. The Huskies are 10-16 overall, 5-11 in Pac-10 play.
Yet, the seniors feel they formed a foundation for a strong future.
“The troubles that we had, if anything, we really became a team,” senior post player Laura McLellan said.
With the WNBA shrinking rosters to 11 players and folding another franchise, Whitcomb’s playing career will likely end at Washington. Whitcomb said she isn’t interested in playing overseas as past teammates Cameo Hicks and Heidi McNeill have.
“I’ve really gotten into wanting to coach,” Whitcomb said. “I don’t know if it’s because I’ve experienced this whole going through a coaching change or what, but this past year I’ve gotten into that aspect. I want to recruit kids and help them with their experience and make it the best they can have.”
And what would she do?
“I’ve found that having good relationships with the players — where they want to compete for you and not only have bought into your philosophies but you as a coach — that’s something I would want to make sure I establish,” she said.
Whitcomb is majoring in History, completing her final class this quarter. She’ll intern with Washington’s coaching staff this spring.
But first, there’s the conclusion of her play on the court.
“Sami is like a rare breed,” senior guard Sara Mosiman said. “She has one of those levels that’s above everyone else’s highest level in terms of working hard.”
After conforming to Jackson’s style, Whitcomb was named a Pac-10 honorable mention defensive player twice.
In addition to becoming a good defensive player, Whitcomb leads the Huskies in scoring (13.5) and rebounding (6.0) as they prepare for games against Oregon State on Friday and Oregon on Sunday.
This season Whitcomb has also added passing, in an effort to round her game.
“She’s a real cool person to talk to about basketball or life itself,” senior guard Christina Rozier said. “Passionate.”
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or firstname.lastname@example.org