LUBBOCK, Texas – There are lots of new in Candi Whitaker’s life.
The former Texas Tech point guard is the Lady Raiders’ new coach. She’ll be coaching a team that will have five new starters. On Sept. 23, she gave birth to her second child. Will joins Westin on the family roster.
“We were excited to be in Texas and be around family to welcome him into the world,” Whitaker said. “It’s always a blessing to bring a child into the world. The lack of sleep hasn’t been great but other than that everything has been great.”
Whitaker hopes her first season as Texas Tech doesn’t cause any sleepless nights. Texas Tech made the NCAA Tournament last season with a 21-11 overall record. The Lady Raiders were 11-17 in the Big 12 and finished tied for third.
But Texas Tech lost four starters from that team and the only returning starter will miss this season. Kelsi Baker, who started 30 games averaging 10.6 points and 5.6 rebounds, suffered an Achilles tendon injury that will probably force her to take a medical redshirt.
“We look at this as a new opportunity for everybody on the roster,” Whitaker said. “It’s new, it’s fresh. Everybody’s got a clean slate with a new staff. Kelsi is a great player and a leader and it’s a huge loss. She’s someone you want around the program and we’ll use her enthusiasm on the bench this year. I’m excited having her back next season.”
With Baker sidelined, the Lady Raiders have one player who has starting experience – and junior guard Amber Battle has made one start.
“It’s definitely an open field for everyone,” said Battle, who averaged 2.9 points and 13.3 minutes per game last season. “If you work hard in practice you’ll get the opportunity. But everybody has to be ready to play. I like the fact that (coach Whitaker) lets me play my game. I’m fast, I like to slash to the basket and I’m working on my jump shot.”
While playing time is an incentive for effort in practice, Whitaker also will have the players select a practice player of the day.
“It’ll be peer related from here on out unless I need to help them with that decision,” said Whitaker, who was a point guard on Texas Tech teams that reached the Sweet 16 in 2001 and 2002. “I think it’s a great way to recognize someone who practices hard and works extremely well. I think we have to emphasize that, someone who shows up every day and gets to work.”
Texas Tech figures to rely on its guards and be perimeter-oriented. Redshirt freshmen Minta Spears and Ivonne Cook Taylor should see plenty of playing time while freshman Diamond Lockhart has been impressive in practices and is slated to be the team’s point guard. She’s one of five newcomers.
“Our newcomers are going to play a lot, make a lot of mistakes and we’ll have to be patient with them,” Whitaker said. “They’ll have to play bigger and older than they are. Diamond Lockhart is going to be a tremendous guard for us.”
Texas Tech’s roster has just three players over six-feet in height – senior Haley Schneider is 6-5, her sophomore sister Kellyn is also 6-5 while Shauntal Nobles is 6-3. Nobles has been battling health issues during her career.
Height might not be as big an issue now with the Brittney Griner Era is over.
“I’ve always followed the Big 12 as a fan when I wasn’t in the league and being at Oklahoma State I got to see all the teams up close,” said Whitaker, who was coach at Missouri-Kansas City for six years. “Brittney changed everything, how you played, how you prepared.
“I think that, as usual, it will be a competitive Big 12 and much more wide open this season.”