Just before the start of Lambert girls basketball practice Monday, the only one shooting a basketball was Carolyn Whitney.
The Lady Longhorns’ interim head coach popped mid-range jump shot after jump shot while the team lounged on the court, resembling more the former decorated high school player than emergency leader of a historic team. But, soon enough, the players were up, taking layups to start practice, and Whitney looked on, beginning the process to prepare No. 3-ranked Lambert (25-2) to face Hillgrove (17-10) at home Wednesday in the second round of the Class 7A state playoffs.
This was all by design. Lambert head coach Jaime Fisher knew she was due with her first baby before the season, so she brought Whitney up from junior varsity head coach to full-time varsity assistant, the better to get her acquainted with the team. Three weeks ago, she put Whitney on full alert; the baby could come any day, Fisher said. Whitney began mentally preparing right then.
Last Tuesday, Fisher brought Michael Joseph Fisher in to the world, all 10 pounds of him, and Whitney’s mental preparation was over. She was in charge, right before Lambert’s first-round state playoff game.
“It was a lot of fun,” Whitney said. “Planning to try to make them better and prep them for a big game was a lot of fun.”
Then Lambert tested Whitney’s enjoyment in a 58-51 overtime victory against Central Gwinnett. There were nine lead changes or ties in the final 4 minutes 15 seconds of regulation.
But Whitney, despite the circumstances, was a stabilizing force.
“Coach Whitney, she won’t say it, she doesn’t think so, but the whole time she was very calm,” said Lambert senior Mandy Clarke, who had 11 points in the win. “Just like us sitting down at timeouts, she’d be like, ‘We’re good, we’re OK. We’re gonna be OK.’ She was never worried. Or she didn’t show it.”
Whitney has plenty of big-game experience of her own. She won three state titles at Wesleyan and left the school as its all-time assists leader. She had a productive career at Georgia Southern, starting at point guard right away and earning Southern Conference Freshman of the Year honors. She returned from an injury-shortened junior season as a senior to lead the team in scoring.
Basketball wasn’t Whitney’s first plan after college. After Georgia Southern, she got a job at Quest Financial as an account executive. But the desk life didn’t appeal for long. Whitney went back to Wesleyan, helping to coach the fifth-grade, eighth-grade and high school varsity girls basketball teams. She joined Fisher’s staff at Lambert last season.
Perhaps head coaching was already in the plans for Whitney.
But this couldn’t have been path she envisioned.
“Honestly, this entire year has been just a wild year,” Whitney said.
Whitney has relished the chance to help Lambert extend the best season in program history. She spent Saturday scouting Hillgrove, a team the Lady Longhorns defeated 53-50 on Dec. 29 at the Deep South Classic, then devised a game plan for how to handle the Lady Hawks’ frenetic man-to-man and 2-2-1 pressure defenses.
“It’s a lot of work and preparation that I didn’t know about before coming into this role,” Whitney said.
Whitney and the Lady Longhorns are eager to play – and to meet the baby who made all this possible. Pictures have had to suffice for now.
“He’s really, really cute,” Clarke said. “He’s a big baby. He looks like he might be 3 months old.”
“Lots of rolls,” Whitney added.