When Amari Whiting isn’t playing basketball – and it’s rare – she’s reading.
The Burley High School women’s basketball star can often be seen with a book in her hands ahead of the whistleblowing. “The boy in the striped pajamas” is his favorite.
“We took a picture of her getting ready for a game, and she was on the court stretching, reading a novel,” the club’s coach and Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame member said. Natalie Williams. “I think it’s very calming for her. It allows her mind to relax and take a break from thinking about basketball.”
This is normal because the 5-foot-10 goalie, who is the 32nd ranked junior recruit in the country, has its own unique history – a history that goes far beyond its many accolades.
“I don’t think people realize how long it took her to become the player she is today,” said Amber Whiting, Burley High girls’ basketball coach and mother. “I remember thinking not too long ago, ‘If you want to be on the pitch, you have to go to work.’ She had to overcome a lot of things.”
Amari grew up 5,700 miles east of Italy. His father Trent Whiting was a professional basketball player for several overseas teams where he averaged nearly 20 points per game over his 12 seasons. He previously played at BYU and Snow College (Utah) with Amber.
Amari’s older brother, Jace Whiting, is also a standout player. Jace, who is currently on an LDS assignment in Finland, was an All-American candidate at McDonald’s and an all-state selection at Burley. He will play for Boise State University next season.
Although it took a while to convince — a pair of her father’s pink Kobe Bryant shoes may have been the deciding factor — Amari followed in their footsteps.
It didn’t come so naturally to him.
There were no women’s basketball teams in Italy. So she had to scratch and claw just to play on the boys’ teams.
“I just relied on my defense to stay on the pitch,” Amari said. “I feel like that’s where I kind of got the defensive side of my game. When I came back to (USA) the defense was easy for me and the game slowed down. “
But by the time she returned home to Utah in third grade and moved to Burley, Idaho in college, that wasn’t enough. It also didn’t help that she wasn’t very tall at the time.
Amari was seeing limited minutes – on her mother’s Hard Knocks club basketball team.
“I remember I was holding a banner for a tournament that we won in Las Vegas, and we had to tip it at the end so his little head popped over it,” Amber said.
It got to the point where Amari had completely lost her confidence.
“I don’t know what game it was but they threw the ball to me in bounds and I took a dribble and picked it up. I just remember being so scared,” Amari said with tears in her eyes. “I’m a little emotional about it because it was so disheartening to see how shy I was to play basketball.”
She was also in softball and dance where she was a national finalist in her eighth year. All of this made her wonder about her future in basketball.
“I’ve always been a bit in the shadow of my brother and my father,” Amari said. “So I didn’t want to do it. I wanted to do something for myself and forge my own path.”
Amari did just that – in basketball.
She gave him one last chance by joining the Natalie Williams Basketball Academy in eighth grade. Williams is a four-time WBNA star with the Utah Starzz and an Olympic gold medalist. Amari played on the Adidas National Tour for Williams’ club team.
At the end of that season, Amari had the first of what would be many NCAA Division I offers – from Montana State University.
“For her, I think it was really knowing what she could do,” Williams said. “I always tell my kids, ‘The only person that’s going to stop you is you.’ And I think Amari understood that.”
Since then she has…
* Was the top scorer in the 4A ranking in each season.
* Was a two-time district champion.
* Twice winner of the State Trophy (consolation, third place).
* Four-time state record holder, including most runs scored in a single state tournament game (37) against the then No. 1. 1 Middleton last year.
* Likely to become a three-time All-State Player – and two-time 4A MVP. Heading into the state playoffs, she is averaging 27.1 points, 9.9 rebounds, 5.7 steals and 3.7 assists per game.
Even before this season, Amari started making headlines. She attended both Insider Exposure Jr All-American Camp in Memphis and Coach Wootten’s Top-150 Camp in October in Mansfield, Texas.
She committed to the University of Oregon, which had the second best recruitment class in the country, a few weeks before the season. She’s had offers from last year’s runner-up Arizona and defending national champion Stanford.
Amari went on to set several program records.
She broke Chelsea Warnell’s single-game scoring record with 44 points against Wood River in early December. Warnell’s mark of 42 points had stood since 1996.
Amari followed that up by becoming the school’s all-time leading scorer against Twin Falls five days later. She surpassed Ashley Toner’s (1995-99) record of 1,423 points (Amari has 1,821+ points).
Amari is therefore not lacking in confidence now – something she likes to let people know from time to time.
During last year’s first round match against Middleton, the student section started chanting “Overrated”. And when Amari went to the free-throw line at Mountain Home this season, they started counting her misses. But Amari responded by blowing them a kiss after a 3-pointer and counting after making a free throw, respectively.
It’s all fun at the end. Amari regularly signs autographs and poses for photos at the end of games with these same fans.
“She’s not an arrogant kid,” Williams said. “She’s very humble and grateful and appreciative. But these things excite her. It’s almost like her blood turns to fire. It’s just this drive she has to prove to people that she wants to be the better because she remembers when she wasn’t.”
A motivation that was really ingrained in her by her family, especially Jace. He really took her under his wing during her ninth year. They drove in the same car, went to lunch and he gave her advice before each match.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit this spring and closed gyms across the city, he was the one who constantly worked and toured with her in their own backyard.
Even nearly 5,000 miles away, Jace is still helping her. They have their own separate session when he calls every Sunday and always answers his texts before a big game.
“He’ll send me a long paragraph to remind me why I’m playing,” Amari said. “He knows everything I’ve been through. He may be on a mission, but I feel like we’re closer than ever now. My brother is my best friend, that’s for sure.”
Another text message will arrive Thursday as second-seeded Burley (22-1) takes on Middleton (18-6) at 7 p.m. inside Mountain View High School. The rematch will be Amari’s first step as he seeks to secure the one thing that has eluded him – a state championship.
And what a perfect end to this chapter of his life it would be.
Like in one of his books.
“I’m so proud of her,” Amber said. “But she knows it won’t end there. She still has to go back every day. There are no days off. There are no games. When one thing ends, another begins .”
(All action photos by Emily Gerrard)