Candace Whitaker became the first former Red Raider to head the program in 2013. A Texas native, Whitaker starred at Seward County Community College before becoming a Red Raider. There she excelled both on the court and in the classroom, and she has helped current Texas Tech athletes make similar academic achievements.
She began her coaching career as an assistant coach at Valapariso from 2004-2006. She was head coach at the University of Missouri-Kansas City for the next six years, and spent a year as associate head coach at Oklahoma State before returning to Texas Tech.
Whitaker and her husband are the parents to two sons.
What did it mean to you to take the head coaching job at your alma mater three years ago?
It was very surreal and a dream come true for me. I grew up in this area, where basketball was dominant for so many years. Marsha Sharp was able to stay in it for such a long time. When I came on my recruiting visit when I left my parents, Coach Sharp unofficially offered me. My parents desperately wanted me to go to Tech to be back home so they could come to games. All I could think about was how badly I wanted her job someday, and they were looking at me like, “what’s wrong with you?” Of course I never shared that with her because of how it would come across. We’re thrilled to be here and it’s home to both me my husband.
You began at a community college before coming to Texas Tech. That’s got to be inspiring for your players.
I grew up in Canyon, Texas, and my high school coach was inducted into the women’s basketball hall of fame this year. He has won 1000 games. I was really fortunate to grow up in such a strong basketball community. We were in the gym all summer at Canyon High; we didn’t travel or go play on the club teams. We were really solid. But I didn’t get recruited to the level I wanted, and I played junior college basketball and it was great for me. I got a lot of confidence and skills, and I got the attention from Division I colleges that I had hoped for in high school.
What did you learn from playing for the great Marsha Sharp?
The thing that always stood out to me was that sharp clearly understands how to grow a program form the bottom up and sustain it. She did a great job connecting her players to the community, and her staff. She’s always very much a solution-based person: if we have a problem, let’s fix it. There was never “that’s the way it is” or “you can’t do that.” It was always, let’s figure this out let’s make it happen. She got it done and her program did happen.
How did you get into coaching, and how did you get your first job at Valaparaiso?
My mom was my coach in seventh grade and was a great player in her time. I had a lot of injuries early: I broke my wrist and tore my hamstring in sixth grade. I was coaching with my mom on the bench while I healed. I was a bit more of a coach as a player, and I wasn’t a huge scorer. I felt like I could help people get to the right spots and that was my strength. I never thought about college coaching I cane to Tech. I thought, I could really do that. Valpo recruited me because they knew me from junior college. I had a conversation with coach Sharp because I was hesitant as to whether or not I could have a family and do this. I didn’t want to get waist deep and figure out I couldn’t do it. She encouraged me; she didn’t want me to think I couldn’t do that.
My generation of men are much more on board to help take care of kids and help around the house as well. I went to Valpo and did everything on the floor did recruiting did scouting reports. You figure it out, you sink or swim. I figured out what I didn’t know as a player, when you think all those things just ‘appear.’
How would you describe your coaching style?
I’m intense. I can be fiery, but I am very passionate about what we’re doing and I have a lot of energy and I give that. My philosophy is very much about doing what the players do best. I won’t stick them into positions or situations that don’t come naturally to them. I want them to get into the flow of the game and to make decisions and not do what I tell them to do all the time. I put them into positions where they have to think. I’m very much evolving every day as the generations change, and they have in my time. You have to change and develop with it. It’s really a group effort. We’re all on the same team. To get it done, there has to be a togetherness.
What is the best thing about coaching student athletes?
It’s so fun when they come in as freshmen and by the time they’re juniors they’re a whole new person. Watching them make mistakes, learning from them and growing gives you a great sense of accomplishment. I love seeing them succeed, working together and accomplishing things. I love competing, but that’s such a small piece. Seeing them develop, graduate and go on with their lives is satisfying.
What has basketball taught you about life?
It seems like a cliché to say that, but it does. Life is about adversity. It’s around the corner in every part of your life, and that’s what sports is. How do you handle getting into foul trouble, not getting a job, winning, losing, understanding other people and their points of views. There are so many life lessons in sports. Kids struggle with that, but when they come back they understand.
Do you set goals?
I set goals depending on what I’m working on. I’ve keep stats in those areas, and we set goals as a team. For me my goals are controllable goals for me. They’re not always about whether we win or lose. My goals are more in what are my reactions to things: how am I coaching, how are we preparing, am I spending enough quality time with my children. I try to keep myself in check and in balance.
What kind of music do you listen to?
A little bit of everything: I like pop music, listen to a little bit of country, a little bit of rap – nothing hard core. I go in many directions; I like a pretty good mix of fun music.