The ballad of Whitney Creech: A Jenkins basketball legend

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Provided by WKU Athletics

Whitney Creech (5) played in 128 games and scored 958 points during her time at Western Kentucky.

Nick Kieser, Sports feature writer

Jenkins, an unassuming community of 2,000 people in rural Letcher County, Kentucky, just so happens to be home to a basketball legend – 23-year-old Whitney Creech. 

The former WKU Lady Topper star scored 5,527 points as a member of the Jenkins women’s basketball team from 2012-16, a state record that stands today. Creech averaged 42 points per game across her junior year and 50 in her senior campaign, leading the nation in both seasons.

She became the state’s all-time leading scorer on Feb. 2, 2016 after dropping a career-high 71 points on Paintsville in a 90-87 overtime victory. Her athletic achievements even caught the eye of former president Barack Obama, who sent the young Creech a letter congratulating her on her success.

These colossal numbers illustrate why the five-foot-eight point guard was the first-ever athlete inducted into the school’s hall of fame on Aug. 27 of this year.

Jenkins also retired Creech’s No. 5 jersey number and dedicated the court in her name. Whitney Creech Court was completed right in time for the ceremony and a gathering of former teammates and coaches were in attendance for the event.

 

“[I’m] just really blessed to have great people in my life,” Creech said, expressing her gratitude for all who came on her special day. 

Jenkins-made

Creech’s journey to becoming a points-scoring legend began all the way back in kindergarten. 

“My elementary school offered a little youth league and my parents asked if I wanted to play, and just being a little kindergartner [I] wanted to hang out with her friends,” Creech said. 

The basketball seed was planted and the rest was history. 

“Over the years I fell more and more in love with it,” Creech said. “Around my seventh grade year of middle school, I realized I really liked it, and from that point I dug in and really started to take it more [seriously].” 

Ashley Addington became Creech’s head coach in sixth grade and witnessed her athletic development first-hand. Addington noted Creech would trip herself up during ladder drills, but possessed the drive to keep improving.

Creech’s love for basketball was apparent from an early age. (Provided by Whitney Creech)

“[The drills] frustrated her and she worked on [them] until she conquered it,” Addington said. “By the time she graduated she had the quickest feet and best coordination I had seen. This is something she would do over her entire career – she never settled for less than being great.”

Kenzie Gibson was a teammate of Creech’s for five years and shared what made the young point guard special.

“What separated Whitney from the competition is that she always put the team first,” Gibson said. “She never hesitated to pass if someone else was open, she would fight for rebounds and anything else that needed to be done. She wasn’t just great at scoring, she was great at every aspect of the game.” 

A Character and Competitor

Creech continued to make noise at the high school level and her play caught the attention of the WKU women’s basketball coaching staff.

Mike Hunt, a former WKU women’s basketball supporter, tipped off then-associate head coach Greg Collins about the Jenkins phenom by sharing a newspaper article. Hunt passed away in 2014, but his insight proved vital for WKU landing Creech in its 2015-16 signing class. 

Collins, now the head coach of women’s basketball on the Hill, made numerous trips to watch Creech in action after originally hearing about her feats through Hunt.

“Four hours on the money,” Collins said, recalling his drives to Jenkins. “I don’t even need a GPS to go up there now.” 

Collins kept track of stats whenever he scouted high school talents, but with Creech’s scoring power, it was no use to try and keep up. Collins knew right away she was special.

 “What I really loved about Whitney was she was very unassuming about how she played the game,” Collins said. “You could see a really high IQ level, great competitor, but it wasn’t about ‘Whitney’ to her – when you watched her play it was about the team and winning.” 

Addington shared Collins’ visits felt different than that of other college scouts. WKU stood apart from other potential programs from the beginning.

“Before WKU, she had many colleges that had come to watch and put offers on the table, but when coach Collins showed up it was a totally different feel,” Addington said. “Whitney and I both felt that this school was going to be at the top of the list after that visit.” 

Creech shared that she never had a “dream school” in mind before reaching the collegiate level. Her main goal was to just make it there. Creech looked up to Kendall Noble, a native of rural Hazard, Kentucky. Noble played at WKU from 2012-17, scoring 1,888 points in 135 games. 

“There weren’t a lot of kids from that area that made it to Division I,” Creech said. “Especially when I was growing up. Part of that made me realize, just because I’m from a small area doesn’t mean I can’t go do great things as well.” 

Her Division I dreams would soon be realized. Creech attended WKU’s Elite Camp and was offered a scholarship.

“Right after the camp they called my high school coach and said I had a scholarship here,” Creech said. “It was a really quick turnaround from meeting them and being offered a scholarship.” 

Creech was offered a scholarship to WKU after attending WKU’s Elite Camp, joining the Lady Toppers’ 2015-16 signing class. (Provided by WKU Athletics)

Ivy Brown, a former WKU teammate and current graduate assistant of the women’s basketball program, said the Jenkins’ phenom relished the jump to collegiate play and took her new role to heart. 

“She was going to do whatever it took to win and it didn’t matter if she needed to score two points or score 20,” Brown said. “Those are the kind of teammates you want to play with.” 

Collins noted Creech exhibited a humble nature similar to that of NBA and WNBA champions – focused on the end goal and able to tune out earthly distractions.

Creech’s Cornerstone

“She has a strong faith and she walks what she talks, but she’s also a strong competitor in a positive way,” Collins said. “She believes hard work is going to overcome anything else. In the locker room, she’ll speak up when she sees something wrong.” 

That strong faith is the cornerstone of Creech’s life and serves as the source of her mindset.

“In the bible, it talks about how everything you do is for the Lord,” Creech said. “I’m just going to work like I am for the Lord.” 

Creech also looks to a certain acronym she heard in her youth to ground herself.

“‘J’ stands for Jesus, ‘O’ stands for others and the ‘Y’ stands for you,” Creech said. “If you put Jesus first and others second then you will find your greatest joy.” 

‘We were destined for great things’

Creech’s WKU career came to an unexpected end in Frisco, Texas on March 12, 2020 after 128 games and 958 points in the red and white. The Lady Toppers had compiled a 14-4 overall record during the 2019-20 campaign, including a spotless 13-0 record in Diddle Arena. 

“I felt pretty confident we were most likely going to get an at-large bid,” Collins said. “That was a special team and a good year, and like a lot of teams, [we] didn’t get to finish it out.”

The night before the first Conference USA postseason game, Creech ran into Collins walking back to her hotel room after grabbing a snack. Collins told her to treat the next game like it was her last after seeing other tournaments cancel due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“That next morning we went to the shootaround and Whitney was focused and just had that cold, hard focused look in her eyes. I just knew I felt sorry for the other team,” Collins said. “It might have been one of those really rare nights like she had in high school.” 

Creech took everything in at the morning shootaround, fully aware it could be the last time the team was together on the court. Collins got the call that the postseason had been canceled when the team returned to the hotel for breakfast. 

Collins raced to inform Creech before she saw the news on social media. She received a text from Collins asking where her room was, which was something he never asked on a road trip. Creech knew what their conversation would be about. 

“I remember being just so mad and upset and how unfair it was, this team had such a special year and we were destined for great things,” Creech said. “To get that close and to spend all that time and energy throughout the season, that’s what you work for, and that was a hard pill to swallow.” 

Addington remembers first hearing the news that her former player’s tournament was canceled. 

“I was in my office, and just put my head in my hands, flashing back to all the times she spent in the gym, working for this moment [knowing] it had just been taken away,” Addington said. “We continued to talk, and I kept a check on her to make sure she was okay. Although it was a devastating blow, she handled it with grace like she does everything else.” 

‘I believe she is where God has planned all along’ 

Today, Creech is both a ninth grade special education teacher at Bowling Green High School and an assistant coach on the Lady Purples basketball team. The opportunities for Creech at BGHS allowed her to find closure for the abrupt end to her collegiate career.

Creech’s positions at Bowling Green High School grant her the ability to coach young women who share the same passion for the game of basketball Creech felt when she was young. (Provided by Whitney Creech)

“It lets me take my mind off of that and focus on the students I worked with and the players I work with,” Creech said. “It still hurts to this day but not it’s not as bad as it was.” 

“After I graduated I really fell in love with the Bowling Green area over the past four or five years and decided to stay here,” Creech said. 

Creech had always wanted to teach and be a coach from an early age. Addington had no doubt in her mind Creech wouldn’t remain involved in the sport once her playing days were over.

“Anytime we would have camps or giveaways, kids were drawn to her,” Addington said. “She was also a leader in her children’s church, so she was a natural teacher. She has a true servant’s heart and I believe she is where God has planned all along.”

Calvin Head is the women’s basketball head coach at BGHS. He first met Creech at an FCA event at the high school one night after she visited as a guest speaker.

“That night I asked her about her future plans and she told me she was an education major,” Head said. “I told her then that I would love to have her be a part of our program in the future. Fast forward, she is now teaching and coaching at BGHS.” 

Head had nothing but praise and gratitude for the duties Creech fulfills at BGHS. 

“We hope and pray we can keep her here at BGHS for a lifetime,” Head said. “We love everything she brings to our community on and off the court. She is an outstanding teacher as well. Coach Creech is a once-in-a-lifetime talent that checks all the boxes – we are blessed to have her.” 

The Purples honored their new assistant coach with a special video the day she was inducted into Jenkins’ hall of fame. 

Collins is also happy to see Creech take on her new roles.

“She’s just as interested in or more interested in your success than she is her own,” Collins said. “It’s great to see someone that really has continued to believe in herself and have a strong faith and really put others first and be as much of a servant as anything.” 

Creech made her mark as a player on the hardwood. Now she invests her knowledge of the game into young women as a coach. 

“Right now my biggest goal as an assistant is to learn as much as I can,” Creech said. “Eventually [I] would like to be a head coach at the high school level and even collegiate level.”

Sports feature writer Nick Kieser can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on twitter @KieserNick.