BY DEAN HOCKNEY
KOKOMO, Ind. – After months of speculation, Indiana University Kokomo finally made official what many suspected – the Cougars will add women’s basketball to its slate of varsity sports beginning with the 2014-2015 season. And they didn’t have to look far to find a coach. Whitney Farris, an assistant coach with the IUK men’s team and a 2006 Kokomo High School graduate, will take the reins of the program beginning immediately.
“This is really a dream come true, being able to coach in the town you grew up in,” said Farris, who arrived on the IUK campus as a graduate assistant sports information director in 2012. “I started playing basketball in Kokomo at the YMCA in the Little Dribbler’s program; basketball is my life, so this is a great honor.”
Cougar Athletic Director Brandon Podgorski, who announced the formation of the new sports program, said he is thrilled the college could hire a coach from within the Cougar athletic program. He said that the formation of the women’s basketball team keeps the athletic program on pace to meet NAIA program requirements of at least six teams. The women’s hoops team joins the men’s team, women’s volleyball and men’s and women’s cross country. A sixth team will be announced in the near future.
“I am very excited that we are going forward with women’s basketball here at IUK and that we had a coach right underneath my nose who is very qualified for the position,” said Podgorski. “It is a good fit for us. She is the right person to take us into the future of women’s basketball.”
Todd Gambill, IUK vice chancellor for student affairs, said the dual announcement of the formation of a women’s hoops program and hiring its first coach was exciting for the Kokomo school.
“We were fortunate to find someone of her character and ability right here at IUK,” he said. “Her integrity, her genuine commitment to the academic success of her student-athletes and her love of the game is exactly what we were looking for in a coach. And the fact that she is a local product will help when she hits the recruiting trail. I just can’t stress how fortunate we are. This is a tremendous day for IUK.”
Farris is a self-professed basketball junkie. But her hoops knowledge is not just from hitting the books; it is from years of action on the hardwood. She played four years of varsity basketball for the Lady Wildkats and helped the team win the 2003 IHSAA Class 4A state title with a perfect 26-0 campaign. A McDonald’s All-American nominee, Farris was a two-time All-North Central Conference performer and played in the Hoosiers Reunion All-Star Classic. She earned 12 letters at Kokomo in four different sports, and she excelled outside of the classroom as a member of the National Honor Society.
“The fundamentals I learned under Charlie Hall at Kokomo helped me so that going to college was not as big of a step,” said Farris. “It is funny, we used scouting reports and stuff that I thought was normal for high school, but it turns out it wasn’t. We were just that prepared. And that not only helped me in college but will help me as a coach.”
Following her success at Kokomo, she was a four-year performer at the NCAA Division I level at Valparaiso University, where she graduated with a degree in business administration (marketing emphasis). A 5-11 guard/forward combo player, Farris played in 90 consecutive games her final three years at Valpo. Her senior season, she averaged seven points, four rebounds and was second on the team in assists. Her junior year, Farris helped lead the Crusaders to regular season wins over No. 1-ranked Florida State and Purdue. Farris was also an academic all-conference honoree.
Farris said she plans on using her connections at the high school level when she starts recruiting.
“I have already watched Taylor play,” said Farris. “With Kokomo and the other county teams right here, I think recruiting will be easy. From Indianapolis to Lafayette, this is a great area to recruit from. There is so much basketball talent here that there are some great pickings to choose from.”
She noted that while she lacks experience as a head coach, she has been around the game for years in a non-playing capacity. She has worked as a camp counselor for the Notre Dame women’s basketball team. At Valpo, she served as the assistant for the women’s basketball summer camps and was a counselor at the men’s basketball summer camps. Last summer, she was a part of the staff at the Purdue women’s basketball junior skills camp. And of course, spending two years working with IU Kokomo men’s coach Jace Thompson has helped.
“It’s funny, earlier the question I got a lot was, ‘how are you going to coach men?’ Now I get, ‘how are you going to coach women?’ It is really just X’s and O’s and they are all people at the end of the day,” said Farris. “I have learned that not every player is the same, whether it is a guy or a girl, and you just have to develop relationships. I really care about each player.”
Whether it is winning a high school state championship or knocking off the top-ranked college team in the nation, Farris is a proven winner on the court. Her next challenge will be proving she can take that experience and use it to garner wins as a college head coach. And she will begin that journey in her hometown. It appears the IU Kokomo women’s basketball program is in good hands.