Staff Photo: John Bohn Wesleyan School varsity girls basketball assistant coach Carolyn Whitney.
A standout point guard who won three state basketball titles at Wesleyan, Carolyn Whitney is back at her alma mater as a coach. After graduating from Georgia Southern and spending some time as an account executive at Quest Financial, Whitney decided she wasn't happy. She quit her job, enrolled in the master's program at Georgia State and is helping coach three different teams at Wesleyan. For this installment of "Getting to Know ... ," Whitney talked with staff writer Christine Troyke about a variety of topics, including coaching with her former coach, Jan Azar, switching careers and still holding the Wesleyan record for assists.
CT: This, coaching and teaching, was not the plan when you left Wesleyan, was it?
CW: When I went to college, I love basketball and I was thinking maybe education. Then, probably my sophomore year, education, no. Coaching, no. I wanted to do something with business. So right after college, I got a job as an account executive at Quest Financial.
I had to figure it out for myself that that's not what I want to do. You spend all hours of your day at work. So you better like what you're doing. Otherwise you'll be pretty miserable.
CT: You had been encouraged to get into coaching by Jan before you went to college though?
CW: Yeah. Jan. I don't know if I can call her Jan. (Laughing) I feel like she'll still get mad at me. I still feel like a player. It's really strange.
But yeah, Jan, she has always encouraged me to do the education route and be a coach. She always said, 'You're going to come back to Wesleyan and coach with me.' I just kind of laughed at it.
I always wanted to coach, but in college something came over me and I wanted to try something else.
CT: Well you spent an awful lot of time practicing and playing in your life. Maybe you just needed a little break?
CW: Yeah. Playing college basketball was so different from high school where you're playing every day with your best friends. It's a job in college. So yeah, I needed a little break from it.
CT: Your college coach also thought you should get into coaching, too?
CW: Just because, I guess, being a point guard on the floor and having to do the extra film work, he understood how much I knew about the game of basketball. So he thought I should really consider being a coach and a teacher.
CT: But you didn't listen to either of them.
CW: (smiling) I didn't, no. That's me being very stubborn and having to figure it out for myself.
CT: But it doesn't sound like it took you took long to figure out.
CW: It didn't. I felt pretty bad about it, but if you're not happy with what you're doing, you have to get out. It's not about the money. At all. Obviously.
CT: Good thing.
CW: Yeah. It's really not.
CT: At what point did Jan pull you back in? You still had your real job?
CW: She asked me to come back and coach the fifth-graders about two years ago -- actually her daughter was on that team as a third-grader -- and I just really enjoyed it. Just being back at Wesleyan, it was something I thought seriously about and that's why I quit the job.
CT: How long was it until you made the official transition?
CW: It took me a long time. I overthink everything. It takes me a while to make a serious decision like that. It was probably about half a year to really figure it out.
CT: At what point were you sure?
CW: At the end of the year with my fifth-graders, all the kids just came up and gave me a big hug and thanked me for being there. There's no better feeling than that, just helping someone out.
I wanted to be a counselor and you get to counsel people every day doing that.
CT: How did it go breaking the news to your folks?CW: You know what? They were absolutely OK with it. Because they knew I wasn't happy and they couldn't see me at a desk all day, looking at a computer.
CT: When did you make the transition?
CW: I found out I was accepted (to the master's program) on Christmas Day. That was when my family was in Cayman Island and it was just great news.
My first classes were actually May, this summer. I'm hitting it hard. I took a full load in the summer. I took a full load in the fall. I'm going to take a full load in the spring. So I'm trying to get out and get a job -- hopefully.
CT: How was the transition from high school to college?
CW: Academically, Wesleyan prepared me so well. It was actually harder than college. On the court, there's no comparison. Everyone is faster and stronger.
Actually, these (Wesleyan) varsity girls had a physical game Saturday against Mill Creek. That's how it's going to be, every single game. They have to know that going into college. I didn't know it was going to be that physical. At all. I thought they'd call a foul on everything. But they don't.
My first couple months there, I would just lay in my bed after practice thinking, "What am I doing. I can't move my body. I can't walk to class. This is so hard."
CT: Was there a time when it got easier?
CW: It was never easy. But definitely by Christmas of my freshman year, I felt more comfortable. Because I started right away. I just felt way more comfortable by Christmastime, being a leader of the team and playing that point guard role. That's tough coming in as a freshman and starting. It's really hard. They have to trust you to play with you.
CT: You missed most of your junior season at Georgia Southern with a wrist injury. What did that do for your motivation as a senior? Especially because it's not like there are a lot of opportunities for women to play beyond college.
CW: I'm pretty sure you have to work another job if you're in the WNBA, too. Which stinks.
So I knew it was my last year of basketball. Forever. That was tough to think about. Every single game I was sitting out because of my injury as a junior, I got that much more eager. That summer, when I could work out, I worked as hard as I could. In the weight room, running, shooting and playing pick-up. And at practice, I pushed my self more than I ever had before in my life. So I think it was a good senior year.
CT: How many teams are you helping with at Wesleyan?
CW: Three teams. I don't get much sleep (laughing). I'm the fifth-grade head coach and an assistant for eighth grade and varsity.
CT: How's your shot from the outside these days?
CW: (laughing) This summer the coaches played the varsity. I almost died. I had to sub out!
CT: You still hold the Wesleyan career record for assists. By a long way ...
CT: Really. You have 645, way ahead of second place, which is Nikki Luckhurst with 566. You should mention that to her next time you see her.
CW: (laughing) I will.
CT: I was going to ask if you knew you still had the record, but since you were surprised, I'll just ask if you think it will be broken?
CW: It needs to be broken. Brittany (Stevens) is a great point guard. She should do it. And next year there's another great one to watch for coming up from eighth grade.
CT: The only year you didn't win the state title at Wesleyan was your freshman year?
CW: My twin sister, Elise, our best defender, she had mono and she found out really late. My family thought she had cancer or something because someone would tap her and she would have a huge bruise. It was really scary. But we found out it was mono. She had like 12 blood platelets and you're supposed to have thousands.We couldn't stop a girl on Holy Innocents' and it was the worst feeling.
CT: At least you were just a freshman.
CW: It still really hurt. I felt like I let down my older teammates. I just promised myself that would never happen again. I never wanted to feel like that again.
CT: It's nice you were able to keep that promise.
CT: What was the last movie you saw in the theater?
CW: I'm a huge movie person. I think the last movie I saw in the theater though was "The Watch."
CT: Any TV shows you try not to miss?
CW: I really like "New Girl" and "Ben and Kate."
CT: Have you bought any music lately?
CW: I'm really loving that Taylor Swift "Trouble" song and "Cruise" by Florida Georgia Line.