Feb. 25, 2010
By Taylor Soper
SEATTLE - Shortly before Tuesday's practice, senior leading scorer Sami Whitcomb warms up by hitting jump shot after jump shot, the smack of the net ringing after her every swished shot.
She doesn't miss. Five shots in a row, then 10; it's like clockwork and perfection. The perfection aspect of Whitcomb's four-year career here is something her head coach can allude to.
"She has kind of been like a coach's dream," third-year head coach Tia Jackson said. "She doesn't really complain. You ask her to go through a wall; she asks how many. It's just been a joy."
Whitcomb's decorated four-year career as a Husky will come to an end next month, as the Huskies wrap up their season with three home games beginning this weekend. To say Whitcomb's experience at the UW has been unexpected is an understatement. The native of Ventura, Calif., was recruited by former UW coach June Daugherty, who now heads the women's basketball program at WSU. After Whitcomb's freshman year, Jackson took over the Husky program, and, suddenly, Whitcomb was playing under a new coach and a new system.
"It's always tough when you are recruited by someone else, and a new coach comes in with a different style," Whitcomb said. "Fortunately, it's a style that I was able to fit into and learn. She's taught me a lot, and she's really willing to take the time to teach you and watch film with you. I've really enjoyed my experience here with her."
Whitcomb's qualities both as a person and a player made the change easy not only for her, but for the new head coach as well.
"With the transition, you need more players like that than not," Jackson said. After starting just four games her freshman year, Whitcomb's playing career blossomed in the following three seasons. She started all but one game her sophomore year and finished second on the team in scoring, averaging 11.2 points per game. She cemented herself among the Pac-10's best during her junior year. Whitcomb was a 2009 All-Pac-10 honorable mention selection and was the team's MVP, leading her squad in points, steals, 3-pointers made and free throws made.
And now, it's clear who is the leader of this team.
This year, Whitcomb has quietly led the Huskies in nearly every statistical category, while surpassing 1,000 points in her Husky career on Jan. 7 and scoring a career-high 32 points in a Jan. 29 road win at WSU.
Looking at her stats, it's easy to tell how good Whitcomb has been. But while the numbers are impressive, her team's record of 48-69 over the past four years hasn't been quite as good. It's about the only bad mark on Whitcomb's career at the UW. While she hasn't been always winning at the UW, her impact has been felt in enormous ways, and not just by the number of times she puts the ball in the basket. Sophomore Kristi Kingma ¬-- who is the team's second-leading scorer -- noted that without Whitcomb next year, it's going to be hard.
"Not only is she a leader, but she's a really calming effect when she is on the court," Kingma said. "We're definitely going to miss her scoring and rebounding from this year, but I think even more so, she's just so poised under pressure. To have such a calming influence on the court -- that's what we're mainly going to miss, because she has all the intangibles."
Whitcomb endured a 22-loss season last year, and her team this season has currently lost 10 of 11. Despite all the losses, the optimistic senior reflected on what she has taken away from the adversity she and her teammates have faced.
"It's definitely tough, mentally and emotionally," she said of losing. "But that's where all the stuff -- team chemistry, team building, relying on your teammates and your coaches -- becomes really important. You realize that, and I think you are able to establish stronger ties and relationships. [Losing] is not something you want to get used to, but you grow in different ways and you figure out ways to get past that and still try and win."
The 5-foot-10 Whitcomb pauses, takes a deep breath, and then speaks after asked how to describe her four years here.
"Memorable," she said. "It has definitely been an unexpected experience. Given the circumstances and everything that has happened I wouldn't trade the experience for anything. I've learned a lot going through different things the team has been faced with and all the different hurdles we've faced, so it's definitely been memorable."