While change has been a common theme of Texas Tech athletics this past academic year, the theme of home has resonated during the introduction of a couple of the new coaches. Candi Whitaker came home to coach the team she ran the point for two seasons for. Texas Tech is literally down the road (albeit 100 miles) from where she played her high school basketball. And Kirby Hocutt realized with this hire that the new coach had better understand her own backyard when facing the rigors of the Big 12 in women's basketball.
"I've always been proud to be part of Lady Raider Nation," said Whitaker. "I am just blessed to have this opportunity. This is something I've always dreamed of. From an early age, I wanted to coach, and this is a dream come true for me, and I thank you for this opportunity."
The excitement, while not quite the pitch of the football hire of Kliff Kingsbury was definitely electric in the room during and after the press conference. Fans, parents & former teammates gave Whitaker a standing ovation twice during the event.
"You know how Texas folks are, and I think West Texas particularly. It's a special place," said Whitaker. " I tell people that. I'm very biased, but West Texas is good, hard-working, loyal people that want to support and get behind people that do the right thing, and I hope that they view that in me and I view that in myself. I think when you can play in a program and come back it's a special thing."
Whitaker takes over a program that isn't broken, it just got passed up. Over the years, as television rights paid more dollars to broadcast, and programs began to invest more resources into women's basketball, the playing field got leveled. Couple those trends with the Lady Raiders last winning a post season game in 2005, and that contributes to the current situation.
She will rebuild with a set of seniors to-be that underachieved last year with a group of outgoing seniors expected to restore a little of the luster on the Lady Raider program, but never matriculated. Whitaker also inherits a quartet of signees that are highly rated, including a couple of top 100 players in Diamond Lockhart and Karyla Middlebrook. Whitaker will have to re-recruit these players quickly in hopes of retaining them.
"I've been very impressed with the players so far," said Whitaker. "I had the opportunity as soon as it was released that I got on the phone, because it's late May, they're not around, but I was able to reach out to them and speak with them. And I've been extremely impressed with the conversations I've had, their personalities, their attitudes, and the fact that four of them are in Uganda in an orphanage speaks highly for their character and the program."
It's a tough task ahead for Lady Raider Basketball, but Whitaker has trained for this. She's ready, and her determination and grit will serve her well.