The bleachers of Matthew Knight Arena vibrated as 12,364 Ducks and Beavers fans cheered their team on. A top-10 clash between No. 4 Oregon and No. 7 Oregon State brought a sold-out crowd to Eugene, and one of the spectators was Amari Whiting, a freshman at Burley High School in Idaho.
Whiting and her family took the 600-mile trip in late January last year to watch the Ducks and Beavers battle twice in three days, once in Eugene and once in Corvallis. It was her first time in Eugene, and she told Ducks Digest that her favorite memory was witnessing the magic of Sabrina Ionescu.
“It was at the end of the third quarter. Sabrina came off a little pick and did a sidestep, and she shot a three and fell down and made it,” Whiting recalled. “It was so cool. Everyone was going crazy.”
Whiting got to meet the team after the game, including Ionescu and Kelly Graves.
“I took a ton of pictures with the team,” Whiting said. “Sabrina is someone I look up to a lot. She’s definitely a mentor to me. I had to make sure to get some pictures with the G.O.A.T.”
It was around this time that Graves and the Ducks' coaching staff began taking a look at Whiting, a freshman guard who was a first-team all-conference selection and led Burley to a second-place finish in the Great Basin Conference and a spot in the state tournament. Whiting scored 550 points her freshman year, the single-season Burley girls basketball record.
Whiting said that “things got serious” between her and Oregon following her dominant sophomore season. She broke her own record by scoring 660 points in her sophomore campaign, including 82 points in three games in the 4A state championships — an all-time state tournament record.
She scored 37 points in a 57-48 win over Middleton in the first round of the state tournament, setting another record. She then began to rack up college offers in a hurry, as Utah, Utah State, BYU, Utah Valley, and Montana State all came calling.
Whiting and her parents returned to Eugene this past weekend for an unofficial visit. They arrived Saturday night, and Whiting said she immediately felt a connection with the locals.
“As soon as I got off the plane, people were talking to us and asking us how we were,” she said. “Everyone was just super friendly. That’s something that really stuck out to me.”
On Monday, Whiting and her family got a bite to eat at the Original Pancake House with Kelly Graves and his coaching staff. She then visited Matthew Knight Arena and toured campus, including some of the science buildings, as she wants to be a physician’s assistant in dermatology.
What did she enjoy most about the campus?
“It wasn’t too big, but it wasn’t too small,” she said. “The atmosphere is like family. Everywhere we went, everyone was repping the “O,” so it was really cool.”
She and her family made a shopping trip to the Duck Store before heading to lunch with the coaches at 5th Street Market. Sedona Prince returned to Eugene fresh off of winning a gold medal in the 2021 FIBA AmeriCup and spent time with Whiting.
Whiting enjoyed meeting Graves once again — 17 months removed from their first interaction at Matthew Knight Arena.
“He’s an awesome coach,” Whiting said of Graves. “I love him to death.”
Amari Whiting Oregon Visit
Graves gave Whiting and her family a surprise when he took them to his office and offered her a scholarship.
“He just sat us down and said that he wanted to give it to us straight and didn’t want to play any games,” she said. “He wanted to let us know where he was at, so he offered me.
“I was really surprised and humbled by the fact that he offered me. He said that he believed in me a lot just because I feel like I’ve been overlooked a little bit because I’m from a small town. I was super grateful.”
Whiting reconnected with another coach who she's had prior contact with - Assistant Coach Jackie Nared Hairston. Nared Hairston recruited Whiting when she was an assistant at Arizona, but the two hadn’t met until the visit.
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“We just had a blast,” Whiting said. “We were all just making jokes the whole time.”
Whiting said that when Nared Hairston was hired to join Graves’ staff, she called the sophomore guard with a simple message.
“She said, ‘I’ve got some news for you. I’m a Duck now. I want you to be a Duck.’ I already knew her, and we had a really good relationship,” Whiting said. "That was awesome for me.”
Whiting said that the staff makes Oregon a desirable place for recruits, and that Graves does a good job of putting strong coaches around him.
“He’s built such a great atmosphere from the beginning,” she said. “Anyone that goes to Oregon and experiences that knows that they’re like family. It’s nothing you can fake. It’s all very real.”
While she just finished her sophomore year, Whiting is considering making her commitment sooner rather than later. She recently visited Utah and will take a trip to BYU soon.
“I’ll try in July and see if I’m ready to commit then,” Whiting said. “If not then, then maybe some time in my junior year. I have a lot of time, but I definitely want to get it done so I can show that I’m all in.”
Whiting said “it would be dope” to play at Oregon, as it fills most of her requirements from a school and program. She said that she is really big on defense and would love to play for a team that lets her do her thing defensively, but also wants to go somewhere she won’t feel homesick.
“I want to go somewhere where it’s like my second home because I’m going to be leaving my family for four years,” she said. “I just want to play for someone that really wants me and that believes in me, and also somewhere that if I get hurt, I would still be happy to be at that school.”
Oregon does not have any commitments from the 2023 class, and Whiting would be an elite pickup to kick it off. The hooper from small-town Burley wouldn’t be overlooked much longer if she signed with Oregon and Graves, a coach that has produced plenty of professional talent at the guard position.
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