She is one of the best players in the history of the Dobyns-Bennett Lady Indians, and she’s no stranger to Division I college offers. But Whitson isn’t relying on rebounding skills, slick passes, or knock-down jumpers to carry her through life.
“Definitely my faith is one of the biggest things I stand on,” said Whitson, a senior post player. “I’m a talkative person, that’s how I am. And I tell my teammates all the time, it’s so much bigger than basketball.”
Whitson is trying to live a life of faith in a day and age where it isn’t always easy.
“It’s tough,” she said. “Especially the way times are now, it’s tough to be a Christian athlete. You’ve got to stand up and be who you are. It’s OK to be different.”
Whitson is certainly different on the basketball court. She is second on the Lady Indians’ all-time scoring list with 1,822 points, and No. 1 in rebounds with 1,103. She is the only player in school history with over 1,000 in both categories.
D-B head coach Bill Francis said Whitson has made a profound impact on building a positive culture in the program.
“She leads by example on the court, in the classroom, and in the community,” said Francis. “She epitomizes how we want our players to represent our program, school and community.
“As a player — wow. I have coached boys and girls basketball for a long time and would be hard pressed to think of a player I coached with the competitive spirit of Courtney. During her time here, her game has continued to evolve into becoming the complete player she is now. The ability to get her the ball in space as well as on the block is beginning to add a whole new dimension to her game and our team.”
Court skills were inherited from dad and mom. In the late 1980s the high school heydays belonged to Trey Whitson — a three-sport star at Unicoi County who went on to play football and baseball at the University of Minnesota — and Sonya Warner, a basketball and volleyball standout at Sullivan North.
Courtney said she learned a lot from both of them.
“I watched some of my mom’s film, and it’s crazy because the (Buck Van Huss) Dome looks the exact same,” said Whitson. “And I can remember sitting down with my dad and looking at old pictures. It was motivation for me. I had natural athletic ability and wanted to do something with it.”
It took a little while to grow out of what Whitson called her “Miss Priss” phase, where she didn’t want to even touch a basketball. By the time fifth grade rolled around, Whitson was hooked on the sport.
When she arrived at D-B, it was a success story from the get-go. She started scoring right off the bat in her freshman season.
“Honestly it was a surprise,” said Whitson. “It was humbling to see how hard work pays off. I didn’t expect it to come that fast. It was awesome.”
After another good year as a sophomore, Whitson had an opportunity to test her faith in a way few, if any, would choose. Her talent was sidelined for a long period of time because of an injury in the summer before her junior year. During a tournament in Kentucky, she suffered a broken ankle. The extent of the injury wasn’t known right away.
“Me being me, I kept playing and taped it up,” said Whitson.
When she got back home, she learned she had a broken talus bone. She was out for seven months, and missed the volleyball season. But Whitson didn’t let it break her spirit.
In fact, she used it to improve her game.
“I wasn’t able to move as well, so I really focused on shooting and ballhandling,” she said. “My junior year was a tough one, but it was a year of learning.”
This year, things have fallen into place nicely. Whitson helped the Indians to a third-place finish in the Class AAA state volleyball tournament.
“We came in as the underdog, but we played with everything we had,” Whitson said.
The momentum carried over into basketball for Whitson, who has helped her team get off to a 7-1 start heading into Friday’s Big Seven Conference showdown at home against Science Hill.
“Our chemistry was in and out last year, but this year it’s out the roof,” said Whitson. “That’s what we’re building on.”
College basketball is on Whitson’s radar. She de-committed with East Tennessee State University, and re-opened the recruiting process. Middle Tennessee State University and Samford are among the top options, and on Wednesday she was offered a scholarship by College of Charleston.
It’s a big decision, but Whitson said she won’t let it get in the way of the Lady Indians’ season. She said she wants her senior year to go out with a bang.
“I just want to enjoy it,” she said. “It’s a blessing to play at D-B, and with the the people surrounding the program.”