Bennett and Co. could not be more thrilled to have Whitman on staff as she was a part of a prosperous run for the NIU women’s basketball program from 1990-93 that saw the Huskies make two NCAA Tournament appearances and a WNIT appearance.
While also being co-owner with her husband Bruce of Whitman’s Catering in DeKalb for the last 15 years, the former Huskie has been heavily involved in the coaching aspect of basketball since her playing days ended.
“Without a doubt, we hit the jackpot hiring Debbie Whitman,” said Bennett, who guided the Huskies last season to their first two-win Mid-American Conference Tournament appearance since 2007 in just her second year at the helm.
“Her community ties are unreal – I walked around with her for Ladies Night Out and I think I met more people than I have since I’ve been here. She knows a lot of people not only through her business but through her work at DeKalb High School. She did a good job of coaching and creating tradition at DeKalb High School.
“She has incredible energy. She’s relationship driven. She has good relationships with her former players. That stuff means a lot. I know she loves NIU and had a great experience playing here. I want her to share that with all of our players. They had great success, reaching the NCAA Tournament. That’s something we are striving for. She can share how they did that. Our staff and players are blessed to have her with us. We are really excited to have her on board.”
Whitman, a native of Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., is just as excited to be returning to her alma mater.
“First of all, it’s a great opportunity to come back to the institution that I played at and graduated from,” Whitman said. “I honestly never thought it’d be possible. I started out as a high school coach and had aspirations to move forward from there and moved to the Division III level. I wasn’t seeking out a change but when Coach Bennett called me I was shocked initially. As we talked about it, I realized this is where I want to be.
“I truly believe that Coach Bennett is going to turn this program around. I have seen what she’s done in her first two years. For me, the opportunity to learn from her was a big factor in my decision.”
The strengths that Whitman brings to the table for NIU are sound organizational skills, stellar DeKalb-Sycamore community relations, and over 13 years of coaching experience.
“I’ve lived here for over 20 years and know a lot of people in the community,” said Whitman. “That’s something I’m hoping will be a positive for our program here – get more people out to games, get the community involved, like they were when I played here.
“Being organized is something that I thrive on. It’s how I keep myself and life in order. From my coaching days, I really feel strongly about building relationships with players. I really like to get to know the kids off the court, build a relationship and trust with them. Having been a coach at the high school and Division III level, I can help the staff by taking care of the little things behind the scenes so the coaches can concentrate on coaching the kids.”
Prior to joining the Huskies, Whitman was an assistant coach at D-III North Central College last season. Mentoring, scouting, recruiting, arranging travel plans, and coaching were among her responsibilities with the Cardinals.
Where Whitman really made her impact was at DeKalb High School, where she was the head coach of the varsity girl’s basketball team and directed the 7th-12th grade programs from 2005-10, and served as an assistant from 2003-05.
Posting an impressive 95-51 record with the Barbs, Whitman led the team to a conference championship, regional championship, the program’s first sectional championship, and advanced to the Sweet 16 of the IHSA playoffs. In 2005-06, she was named IBCA District Four Coach of the Year and was chosen to coach the Rockford Rising Stars All-Star team. She also raised over $40,000 in private donations for the program.
Additionally, many of her players went on to play at all levels of NCAA basketball and she conducted camps full of over 150 campers each summer.
Before getting into coaching, Whitman was a camp director for Camp 22 Skill Development from 1998-2005. She helped teach the fundamentals of the game in private lessons and large camps to boys and girls of all ages.
Immediately after graduating from NIU with a bachelor of arts in corporate/organizational communications in 1993, she became program director for the DeKalb Park District from 1993-96.
As a Huskie player, Whitman was a key contributor during a fantastic three-year run in which NIU played in the 1991 WNIT and the 1992 and 1993 NCAA Tournaments. To get to those tournaments, the Huskies won the 1992 North Star Conference tournament and the 1993 Mid-Continent Conference regular season championship and tournament. She averaged 7.4 points, 2.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists, and 1.25 steals per game during her career at NIU. Whitman’s career 82.2 free throw percentage still stands as the third best in Huskie history.
Whitman has been inducted into the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2011, NIU Athletics Hall of Fame in 2005 as part of the 1989-90 team induction, and the Assumption High School (Wis.) Hall of Fame in 2004 as she was a four-time Honorable Mention All-American choice by USA Today.