Life and basketball with Carolyn Whitney


With three state championship rings, numerous awards, and now a historic Elite 8 performance for the Lambert girls program, success seems to follow Carolyn Whitney.

The gym is buzzing with the humdrum of kids doing one of three things: sprawling out on the floor furiously finishing homework, gluing their nose to the phone in teenage zombie mode, or playing a pickup game of basketball. Carolyn Whitney, chatting it up with the students doing the latter of course, is a wide-eyed young coach most often found in dri-fit and joggers, and easily mistaken for a student herself. Basketball is typically a game of size, but the small-statured 3-time state champion would argue that at every opportunity she gets. She gravitates towards people that believe anything is possible with determination, fearlessness, and raw desire. A formula she also embraces with her coaching mentality as well.

This is Whitney’s second year as a health and P.E. instructor at Lambert, and also the girls’ varsity assistant basketball coach. It’s hard to imagine stepping in as interim head coach, especially after coming off a historic season that included winning the region championship for the first time in program history, all while going undefeated in the region, a first for Lambert girls basketball. However, that’s exactly what she had to do when head coach Jaime Fisher welcomed a son three days before the first state playoff game. This wasn’t just your average fill in, she was expected to step up in a position held by a two-time Coach of the Year, and Region Coach of the Year in Fisher. That was going to be some daunting shoes to fill.

“Sports has always been a big part of my life. I grew up playing just about every sport out there; I just loved to compete,” said Whitney. Growing up in Norcross, GA, she started playing when she was just five years old after watching her older sister. At 10 she was playing AAU. She wasn’t alone in that endeavor. She had a constant companion that would challenge her and ignite her competitive spirit, her twin sister Elise. Although she admits that their 1 on 1 driveway sessions ended up more like dodgeball sessions, that’s how it all began.

From there, she began a prolific basketball career at Wesleyan where she garnered numerous all-county, all-state awards and most notably her three state championship rings. She went on to play at the collegiate level at Georgia Southern, where she recalls loving every moment getting to play with her best friends. She reminisces about “having such a special bond when you go through so much together like getting through pre-season conditioning, running endless amounts of sprints, and having the hardest practices. It’s an unbreakable bond when you go through tough times together and work as hard as you possibly can to achieve one common goal together.”

Although basketball had always been a true passion of hers, it wasn’t until her old high school coach Jan Azar called about possibly coaching a 5th grade team at Wesleyan that peaked her interest. “That is when I got the wild notion about how much fun it would be to get paid for something I actually enjoyed doing,” mused Whitney.  She elaborates, “Jan Azar always told me that my calling was to be a coach, but being the stubborn person that I am, I had to figure that out for myself. She made a lasting impact because she taught me how to be successful in life. That secret to success, I believe, is to committing to only focusing on the things I have total control over- the attitude I carry, the effort that I give, and the process of improving myself in the present moment. Jan had such high expectations for me by not allowing anything but my best. This was definitely tough at times, but has really shaped the person I am today.”

After completing her Master’s program, Whitney found an opening at Lambert and felt immediately at home. “I really loved everything about the school- from the Administration all the way down to the students. The administration was so unbelievably personable and made an effort to really make me feel welcomed to the school. The teachers really went out of their way to help me out with anything and everything. The entire community is amazing and it is an unbelievable place to work.”

In her first year as the head JV coach, she helped lead the team to an undefeated season and groomed the upcoming players for varsity play this year. In her second year, she had to work closely with Coach Fisher in order to take over the reigns seamlessly during the most important time: the post-season. Despite the intense pressure, Coach Fisher had complete confidence in her assistant. Not only had the team been prepared, but all season long, Fisher made sure her staff was prepared when the time came for them to step in. Whitney was going to take the same approach she drilled into her players- endure the grind, and worry only about one thing, “Developing a work ethic that can translate into a habit for a lifetime, and really push people out of their comfort zones beyond what they think they’re capable of doing. Nothing is more rewarding to me than to see a player get as much as they can out of their abilities.” Wins or losses aside, this was the focus.

Whitney’s theories on developing a winning tradition read like motivational speaking tapes. “The girls needed to understand that we were capable of beating, not only average teams, but beating great teams. It didn’t matter if the other team was more athletic than us, or if we were outsized. None of that mattered. The moment the ball was tipped up, it was game on.” And history was made as the girls team became the first basketball team to make it to the Elite 8.