Whitaker enjoying march to Sweet 16

Camryn Whitaker

For someone who grew up in Cynthiana and played college basketball at Western Kentucky, Dayton’s run to the Sweet 16 has been unique for Camryn Whitaker.

“Being from Kentucky, what are the chances that we would’ve played Kentucky and Louisville?” said Whitaker, a Flyers assistant. “Slim to none, but it’s happened and it’s cool.”

Whitaker’s Dayton team beat UK on Sunday in the NCAA Tournament’s second round and will play Louisville on Saturday in the Sweet 16. The Flyers, a No. 7 seed, will meet the No. 3 seed Cardinals at 1:30 p.m. CDT in Albany, N.Y.

Dayton has been to the NCAAs all three seasons Whitaker has been an assistant at the school, but this marks the Flyers’ first-ever trip to the regional semifinals.

“We’ve made history,” Whitaker said. “It’s been a long journey and it’s really cool. I feel lucky to be a part of it.”

Whitaker, a Harrison County High School product, played point guard at WKU from 2000-05 under Lady Topper coaches Steve Small, Shawn Campbell, Marti Whitmore and Mary Taylor Cowles.

She set a Sun Belt Conference freshman record for assists (170) in 2000-01.

For her career, Whitaker ranks third at WKU in assists (486), sixth in games started (117) and 10th in minutes played per game (29.4).

Whitaker has used her experience as a Lady Topper point guard to coach that position with the Flyers.

Her team averages 14.2 assists per game, led by Andrea Hoover (3.1 apg) and Jenna Burdette (3.0).

“I’m biased to point guards and I’m probably a lot harder on them,” Whitaker said. “I’m always making them watch film and trying to make sure they understand the whole game.

“I think that’s really important as a point guard. You need to understand what your posts are doing, what your wings are doing. It’s the hardest position. But to me it’s best because you have so much control of that game.”

Whitaker got into coaching after she graduated from WKU. Her first job was leading an AAU team that included 12-year-old Chastity Gooch, a future Conference-USA Player of the Year with the Lady Toppers.

Whitaker then served stints as an assistant at Austin Peay (2006-08) and Missouri State (2009-11), before taking a job on Cowles’ WKU staff in 2011.

But the Lady Toppers went 9-21 in the 2011-12 season and a coaching change occurred soon after.

Former WKU athletic director Ross Bjork appointed Whitaker the program’s “point person” during a coaching search that resulted in the hiring of Michelle Clark-Heard.

Whitaker left Bowling Green that offseason to take a job on coach Jim Jabir’s staff at Dayton.

During her three seasons there, the Flyers have gone 78-17 overall and 42-4 in Atlantic-10 Conference play. She serves as the program’s recruiting coordinator in addition to her duties coaching point guards.

“It’s awesome,” Whitaker said. “I’ve never been in (the Sweet 16) before as a coach or a player. I’m just happy for our kids and the University of Dayton.”

The Flyers drew a No. 7 seed in the Albany Region, putting them in a subregional hosted by Kentucky.

Last weekend marked Whitaker’s first time in Lexington’s Memorial Coliseum since her WKU team beat the Wildcats there in December 2002, she said.

Dayton got by Iowa State 78-66 on March 20 in the first round, setting the stage for a game played Sunday against No. 2 seed UK.

With a large number of Whitaker’s friends and family in the crowd, the Flyers upset the host Wildcats in an exciting 99-94 victory.

Ally Mallot (28 points) and Amber Deane (23) led the way as Dayton shot 56.6 percent from the floor, 61.1 percent from 3-point range and 90.3 percent from the free-throw line.

“I grew up 30 minutes from Lexington and grew up going to women’s games, the men’s games,” Whitaker said. “To this day I still watch them and I want them to do well. Being from Kentucky, I think other people from Kentucky understand what I’m saying.

“That game was really cool because I had a lot of support from my hometown and my family. ... It was neat to be there and to get the win.”

Now the Flyers draw a Louisville squad in the Sweet 16 coached by another former WKU assistant, Jeff Walz.

The winner of that matchup will face either top overall seed Connecticut or Texas, the team that eliminated the Lady Toppers in the first round last week, in the Elite Eight.

“Jeff does a really nice job with them,” Whitaker said of the Cardinals. “He’s a tremendous coach.

“I think they’ve got a really tough and talented team and they always play well this time of year. I think it’s going to be a big challenge for us.”

As for any career ambitions, Whitaker said she’d like to one day become a head coach, but isn’t in a rush to take another job.

Whitaker enjoys the player development and recruiting roles that come along with being an assistant, she said.

“If a head coaching opportunity comes for me, that’s great,” she said. “Right now I just try to live one day at a time and work hard and see where it takes me.”

— Follow Western Kentucky women’s basketball beat writer Brad Stephens on Twitter at twitter.com/stephens_brad or visit bgdailynews.com.