Just three months after arriving in Boulder from her home in Cust, New Zealand, Charlotte Whittaker has yet to play a game for the Colorado women’s basketball team, but with a warm smile and friendly laugh, she’s already bonded with coaches, teammates, custodians and almost everyone else she’s met.
“Bottom line, Charlotte is one of the finest human beings I’ve ever met,” CU head coach JR Payne said. “She is unbelievably selfless, she is always upbeat, always positive. She is friends with anyone that’s ever met her.”
On top of all that, the 6-foot-4 forward who can muscle up in the paint and drain a 3-pointer, has the talent to be a crucial piece to the puzzle for a Buffaloes’ program that is looking to finally get on a winning path.
“She has the potential to be special,” Payne said.
Whittaker, who was born in Banbury, England, has been on the road to stardom for years. Her late father, Mark, got her hooked on basketball at a young age, and she began traveling to international competitions at the age of 12.
Having also played volleyball and netball growing up, Whittaker starred in basketball, averaging 14.8 points and 4.6 rebounds per game during her international career.
Last year, however, just as doors were beginning to open for college opportunities in the United States, Whittaker’s father suffered a fatal heart attack.
“It’s been very difficult,” she said. “He passed just before we came to visit colleges. My dad has always been a big part of my life and he was the first one to get me into basketball. He’s always been one to push us into trying new things and supporting us in the best way he can. Just an awesome guy and a real community guy, too.”
Whittaker has always been close with her family, which includes her mother, Caroline, and younger siblings Lauren (13) and Mason (17). She has leaned on them even more since Mark’s passing and knew that if she was going to leave New Zealand, she had to find a place that felt like home.
“For me, it was really hard coming to visit colleges and him not being there, because he had been there through the whole process,” she said. “Choosing a college, I really wanted to come somewhere where it was a real family atmosphere, because that’s what I think the New Zealand culture is really like. Everyone comes together in times like that; everyone is a community.
“That’s part of the reason I chose here is I felt so at home. I felt like I was going to be completely looked after.”
Despite missing family, friends and food — especially the fresh produce from the farm on which she grew up — and still getting used to Americans driving on the right side of the road instead of the left, Whittaker couldn’t be happier. She arrived in January, but redshirted last season and has poured herself into training with the Buffs
“I’m absolutely loving it,” she said. “I feel so at home here. I’m getting used to all the schedules of training and classes and everything. It’s going by so fast.”
In New Zealand, the high school year ends in November, so Whittaker took advantage of the opportunity to arrive early and get a jump on her training and acclimation to college, a new country, a new altitude, and a whole lot of other changes.
“Everyone around here has made it super easy,” she said. “I think I’ve handled it pretty well right now and I’ve got to a space where I’m really independent with everything I do over here. I kind of know where I’m going, the expectations they have for me.”
Payne and her staff believed Whittaker could be a game-changing talent in the paint, and seeing her in person during practice hasn’t changed their minds.
“On the court, she’s crazy versatile,” Payne said. “She can pass like a guard and she shoots it and she’s really strong; she also likes to play physical. She has the size to post up pretty much anybody, but she also has the versatility to stretch you out.”
Whittaker has been impressed with the fan support at CU and said she’s eager to start playing games with the Buffs next season.
“I can’t wait to contribute to the team in any way I can and help us continue to climb the ladder and get better every day,” she said.
Along the way, she’ll continue making friends, while never forgetting her father, who helped her get to Boulder.
“It’s been hard being away from the family, but I’m just here to keep training, working hard and try to make him proud and continue with what I always promised, just to make the best out of my life,” she said. “I know he’s up there watching.”