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When Amari Whiting isn’t playing basketball - and that’s rarely - she’s reading.

The Burley High School girls basketball standout can often be seen with a book in her hands before tipoff. "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas" is her personal favorite.

"We took a picture of her getting ready for a game, and she was on the court stretching, reading a novel," said club coach and Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer Natalie Williams. "I think it’s very calming for her. It allows her mind to relax and take a break from always thinking about basketball."

It’s fitting because the 5-foot-10 guard, who is the 32nd-ranked junior recruit in the country, has her own unique story - one that goes well beyond her numerous accolades.

"I don’t think people realize the amount of time she’s put into becoming the player she is today," said Burley High girls basketball coach - and mother - Amber Whiting. "I remember thinking not that long ago, 'If you want to be on the court, you’ve got to go to work.' She’s had to overcome a lot."

Amari grew up 5,700 miles east in Italy. Her father Trent Whiting was a professional basketball player for several teams overseas where he averaged almost 20 points per game during the course of his 12 seasons. Previously, he had played at BYU and Snow College (Utah) with Amber. 

Amari’s older brother Jace Whiting, is a standout player as well. Jace, who is currently on an LDS mission in Finland, was a McDonald’s All-American team nominee and an all-state selection at Burley. He will play for Boise State University next season. 

While it took some convincing - a pair of pink Kobe Bryant shoes from her father may have been the tip-the-scales factor - Amari has followed in their footsteps.

It didn’t come as natural to her, though.

There were no girls basketball teams in Italy. So she had to scrape and claw just for playing time on the boys’ teams.

"I just relied on my defense to stay on the court," Amari said. "I feel like that’s where I kind of gained the defensive side of my game. When I came back to the (United States), defense was just easy for me and the game slowed down."

But by the time she returned home to Utah in third grade, and moved to Burley, Idaho in middle school, that was no longer cutting it anymore. It didn't help that she wasn't very tall at the time, either.

Amari was seeing limited minutes - on her mother’s own Hard Knocks club basketball team.

"I remember I was holding a banner for a tournament we won in Las Vegas, and we had to tilt it at the end for her little head to pop over the top," Amber said.

It got to the point where Amari had lost confidence in herself entirely.

"I don’t know what game it was, but they threw the ball to me inbounds and I took one dribble and I picked it up. I just remember being so scared," said Amari with tears in her eyes. "I kind of get emotional about it because it was so discouraging about how timid I was to play basketball."

She was also into softball and dance where she was a national runner-up her eighth grade year. It all caused her to question her future in basketball.

"I was always kind of in the shadow of my brother and my dad," Amari said. "So I didn’t want to do it. I wanted to do something for myself and forge my own path."

Amari did just that - in basketball.

She gave it one last shot by joining the Natalie Williams Basketball Academy in the eighth grade. Williams is a four-time WBNA all-star with the Utah Starzz and an Olympic gold medalist. Amari played on the Adidas national circuit for Williams' club team.

By the end of that season, Amari had the first of what would be many NCAA Division I offers - from Montana State University.

"For her, I think it was really knowing what she can do," Williams said. "I always tell my kids, 'The only person who’s gonna stop you is you.' And I think Amari figured that out."

Since then, she’s ...

*Been the 4A’s classification leading scorer every season.

*Been a two-time district champion.

*Been a two-time state trophy winner (consolation, third place).

*Been a four-time state record-holder, including the most points scored in a single state tournament game (37) against then-No. 1 Middleton last year.

*Likely to become a three-time all-state player - and two-time 4A MVP. Heading into the state playoffs, she is averaging 27.1 points, 9.9 rebounds, 5.7 steals and 3.7 assists per game.

Even before this season, Amari started to show up in headlines. She attended both the Insider Exposure Jr All-American Camp in Memphis and Coach Wootten’s Top-150 camp in October in Mansfield, Texas. 

She committed to the University of Oregon, which had the second-best recruiting class in the country, a few weeks before the season. She received offers from the likes of last year’s runner-up Arizona and reigning national champion Stanford as well.

Amari then went on to set multiple program records.

She broke Chelsea Warnell’s single-game scoring record with 44 points against Wood River in early December. Warnell’s mark of 42 points had stood since 1996.

Amari followed that up by becoming the school’s all-time leading scorer against Twin Falls five days later. She surpassed Ashley Toner’s (1995-99) record of 1,423 points (Amari has 1,821 points and counting).

So Amari has no shortage of confidence now - something she likes to let people know from time to time.

During last year's first-round game against Middleton, the student-section began chanting, "Overrated." And when Amari went to the free-throw line at Mountain Home this season, they began counting her misses. But Amari responded by blowing them a kiss after a 3-pointer and counting along after she made a free throw, respectively.

It’s all in good fun in the end. Amari routinely signs autographs and poses for photographs at the end of games with those very same fans.

"She’s not a cocky kid," Williams said. "She’s very humble, thankful and grateful. But those things just fire her up. It’s almost like her blood turns to fire. It’s just that drive that she has of just proving to people that she wants to be the best because she remembers when she wasn’t."

A drive that was really ingrained in her by her family, especially Jace. He really took her under his wing her ninth-grade year. They rode in the same car, went to lunch and he gave advice to her before every single game. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit that spring and shut down gyms all across the city, it was him who constantly worked and shot around with her in their own backyard.

Even from nearly 5,000 miles away, Jace is still helping her out. They have their own separate session when he calls every Sunday and always responds to her texts before a big game.

"He’ll send a long paragraph back to remind me why I play," Amari said. "He knows everything I’ve been through. He might be on a mission, but I feel like we’re closer than ever now. My brother is my best friend for sure."

Another text message will come Thursday as second-seeded Burley (22-1) faces Middleton (18-6) at 7 p.m. inside Mountain View High School. The rematch will be the first step in Amari looking to get about the only thing that has eluded her - a state championship.

And what a perfect ending to this chapter of her life it would be. 

Just like in one of her books.

"I’m so proud of her," Amber said. "But she knows it won’t stop there. She’s still got to go back it up every single day. There’s no days off. There’s no games off. When one thing ends, another one begins."

(All action photos by Emily Gerrard)