October 22, 2021
Inside Amber Easter’s journey around the Atlantic 10
From CAA player and future psychologist to A-10 assistant coach
Basketball was been a family affair from the start for St. Bonaventure assistant coach Amber Easter.
After being thrust into gymnastics and cheerleading from a young age, Easter started playing basketball around 7 or 8 after her family moved from Richmond, VA to Hampton, VA. Her older brother played basketball and Easter wanted to do everything he did, including playing football. She learned quickly the gridiron was not for her, but found a passion for basketball along the way.
Easter’s brother ensured she understood that he was not only stronger and faster, but bigger and better than she was. Little did he know that this would push her to be better. She and her siblings played two-on-two games in their cul-de-sac, sometimes inviting their neighbors to join and play 21 (a popular driveway basketball game).
Everyone in her family played basketball, including her parents. Her father helped grow her love of basketball and coached her until she was a junior in high school.
“There was never a day, a weekend, a summer, where we weren’t off at a camp doing something. We were either at basketball camp, or we were out at track meets or were out watching my mom play softball games,” Easter said.
She later added, “There was never any time where we had free time where we didn’t want to be playing basketball. Because we’re also in a military family, we did a lot of things on base and there were always leagues for us to play in, especially when we were younger, and then as we got older and started to shift into high school, we just kept loving it.”
Easter’s father coached many of her teams growing up and had a significant influence on how she played basketball.
“He really had me buy into the fundamental side of the game and instilled that in me,” she said.
She called him her most influential coach and credited him with instilling in her being herself, embracing the role she was given and embracing the level of hard work it takes to be an elite athlete. Now that she’s coaching as well her father also tries to give her his referee perspective and advise her on how to instill different coaching mentalities into the student-athletes she’s trying to make better.
Her passion for the game continued to grow. She scored more than 1,300 points and grabbed more than 500 rebounds at Bethel High School, where she also excelled in track and field and was a member of the band.
Easter’s next stop was less than a three-hour drive away at George Mason. While majoring in psychology, her success continued on the court. Though the team struggled, never finishing the season above .500 during her time in green and gold, Easter left her name throughout the record book. She finished her career in 2013 and currently ranks 12th all-time in scoring, fifth in rebounding and tenth in blocked shots.
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After graduation, Easter was ready to begin using her degree and step off the court. But soon she caught the coaching bug and got a job as the junior varsity coach at Bethel High School.
With her dad as her assistant coach and her younger sister as one of her players, her coaching career began.
“Watching those kids really try to give me their best. I was like, ‘Oh man, I think I want to do this, I think I want to help them,’” Easter said.
In her first season, the team went 4-20. It was the next season when Easter really committed to coaching as a future. She was able to implement her systems and run the kind of coaching style she wanted, and her team bought in. The result? A 20-4 season.
“I was so excited because I’m putting in that little bit of extra time that I did, talking to them more, getting to know them on an individual basis, making sure that they’re understanding what I’m teaching, and not just me barking orders,” Easter said. “It works when you do it the right way. And so after that, I was like, ‘I think I got to do this for a long time.’”
In 2015, one of Easter’s former AAU coaches brought up the open graduate assistant position at VCU. She was familiar with the Rams after playing against them while both VCU and Mason were in the CAA in the first three years of her collegiate career.
Soon after, her phone rang and she packed her bags to head to VCU, her first stop in the Atlantic 10.
VCU head coach Beth O’Boyle offered Easter the graduate assistant position because of her success at Mason, recommendations from her former coaches and their conversations during the interview process.
“She had been an absolutely terrific player in college at George Mason and her knowledge and ability immediately made our student-athletes better on the court. Amber was very competitive and driven, our players really respected that and it challenged them,” O’Boyle said.
She was also impressed that Easter wanted to pursue a master’s degree in both sports leadership and her MBA.
“It really showed not only her internal drive but also her high level of intelligence both on and off the court,” O’Boyle said.
While at VCU, Easter learned college coaching life, including many aspects she didn’t take into account while she was a player.
“I thought the coaches just came to work, made up workouts, and then put us through practice, and then they went home for the end of the day,” Easter said.
O’Boyle took the time to explain to Easter how each part of college coaching intertwines with each other and how important some aspects are in terms of recruiting.
“It’s something that you do all year round, it never stops,” Easter said. “Some kids, you got to call, some kids love handwritten letters, some kids just want an email, some kids just want you to shoot them a quick picture where you’re laughing and smiling and having a good day. But it’s also understanding that while you’re managing speaking with all of those kids, you also have to manage your own team, you got to make sure your student-athletes are on top of their studies, you got to make sure they’re becoming well-rounded human beings.”
Easter credited O’Boyle with helping her understand that the coaching side of basketball is hard work. Not only do you need to pay attention and understand what’s going on, but you also need to enjoy why you do it.
O’Boyle noted that Easter’s knowledge grew over time. She was willing to learn in any way she could, from working on the scout team to helping with the team’s day-to-day operations.
“She really jumped in feet first and soaked everything in,” O’Boyle said. “Her time here really allowed her to grow from being a former student-athlete to developing the mindset of a college coach and all that [it] entails.”
O’Boyle noted that Easter’s knowledge and ability made the team better on the court immediately, but her favorite memory was one from practice.
“I always enjoyed watching Amber play with our team,” O’Boyle said. “It was fun to give her a hard time about her lack of love for playing defense. But then she would turn around and hit a three-pointer for the scout team and just smile back at me.”
Easter’s two years at VCU were almost up in the spring of 2017. She was in search of another job when she saw her alma mater needed an assistant coach. Excited at the opportunity to return to Mason, Easter received an interview, but not an offer.
Nyla Milleson, Mason’s head coach at the time, decided to hire someone with more experience, but said, “Oh gosh, if I ever have something else open up, I’m certainly going to call her.”
A couple of weeks later when the Patriots’ Director of Basketball Operations (DOBO) position opened up, Milleson gave Easter a call and soon after she headed back up to Fairfax.
Returning to Mason was Easter’s favorite part of her journey. Not only was she comfortable there but knowing the staff around the campus made her want to succeed more.
“It was great to come back and just see that they respected me as one of their peers, especially the people that you bumped into while you were a player, you never really got to know them or actually even knew what it was that they did,” she said. “…It was awesome because they were big supporters of me when I was a student-athlete, and they just kept that same energy when I was a member of the staff.”
Milleson described Easter as someone “that bled the green and gold” and noted her impact on the players was noticeable, especially having been in their shoes just a few years prior. She said that Easter understood both the culture and the campus at Mason, but also the continued growth the coaching staff was trying to establish.
“Our DOBO is so crucial to what we do,” Milleson said. “Just from the travel and the organization and making sure everybody has the right socks and all the other things that go into it, it’s just such a detailed position and she really took a lot of pride in that. And worked really hard to make sure that our players and our coaches had what they needed.”
Easter said that planning is something she can do exceptionally well, so the transition from more of a coaching role as a graduate assistant to the DOBO position was easy for her. Her time back at Mason allowed her to experience a new coaching style and learn from a different set of coaches. While she would soon return to coaching, Easter was grateful and appreciative for the stop on her journey.
Easter’s next step was not close to home in the traditional sense, but with four years of A-10 experience under her belt and family in Buffalo, NY, St. Bonaventure still had a sense of familiarity similar to her positions at VCU and Mason.
She originally chose to go to school at Mason in part because her parents could come up to home games whenever they could. Remaining in the A-10 at St. Bonaventure means that no matter how the schedule shakes out, trips to Washington D.C., Richmond and Fairfax are all possibilities each year. Being about 90 minutes from Buffalo means when her dad goes to visit his brother they’re able to make a trip of it. It also means that Easter is able to spend holidays with her cousins and other family members.
“It’s really nice because I’m so much closer to them now because I can get there and so I get to spend more time with them and also get to see my family, too,” she said. “So it’s a nice mixture.”
When hiring her in the spring of 2019, St. Bonaventure head coach Jesse Fleming liked her experience in the A-10 and her experience playing under former Mason head coach Jeri Porter (2008-2013), then working with O’Boyle and Milleson. He also gave his players a voice in the hiring process and Easter stood out not just with the coaching staff, but players as well.
“I just think at that point, she had put in her time and she was ready,” Fleming said. “And she’s shown that she’s ready.”
While it was not something she set out to do, Easter is in her seventh year working in the A-10.
“It’s actually been great that I’ve stayed in the A-10 because I’ve gotten to know the conference and the kids and the different systems and schemes,” she said.
Fleming complimented Easter’s high emotional intelligence and her ability to both show that she cares and be brutally honest with players when necessary.
“I think she’s just made our players better,” he said. “Just overall, I think they like to be around her. So she can get them into the gym. And they like to work on their game. She works with both Asianae Johnson and Tori Harris, who are our two leading scorers, and she’s done a really nice job, developing their games and keeping their heads on straight. And so I think that’s been a huge development there. But then just overall, just having an assistant coach that’s infinitely approachable, and level-headed without being a pushover. That can tell the truth when needed. And that’s 1 through 15 on the roster with her interactions with players.”
He also noted that in her short time at St. Bonaventure Easter has found success as a recruiter, making relationships with recruits and taking the lead on a couple of the team’s signings. Fleming believes that with continued growth she can become one of the best recruiters in the A-10.
Easter’s primary role is working with the Bonnies’ offense. Fleming hopes she will soon be able to own the offensive side of play and be the de facto offensive coach when he is not there.
Part of what helps Easter be successful is her playing experience. She noted that she has a different outlook than coaches that did not play in college, but her experience also challenges her to look at things in a different way.
“I can’t always go ‘when I was a player, this is how things were done’ or ‘this is how I did things’,” she said. “And so I’m able to take my own personal experience, but try to add to it by learning the things that I can from every coach that I’ve been around. I learned a lot about transition when I was at VCU, some things that were completely different from what we did at Mason. But then going back to Mason, that coaching staff had a different outlook on how they wanted to handle things.”
In addition, her psychology degree has helped her create an environment that allows others to be comfortable sharing and talking to her, as well as deescalate situations in different ways from the rest of the staff. She knows that sometimes a player will come in and they’ll want someone to listen, while others ask what they can do differently to help the team.
“It’s all about problem-solving,” Easter said “It’s all about communication, and just being authentic in your conversations with other people and just getting people to understand where you’re coming from.”
She later added, “I definitely think it [her psychology background] helps me manage some things and help everybody talk through whatever’s going on. Even if it’s a problem, if it’s school, if it’s basketball just having them understand maybe why they’re struggling, or maybe why they’re excelling. So just keeping them in the right mindset.”
While she has enjoyed each step of her journey, Easter would tell her younger self to take herself less seriously, but take the game more seriously. Though she dreamed of being a psychologist, she also had the desire to play basketball overseas. Easter had opportunities to but never felt like the timing was right, though she wishes she had that extra perspective and addition to her resume.
In the next 5 to 10 years, Easter hopes to manage her own program as a head coach. In the meantime, she noted she would not pass up the opportunity to return to Mason. After she wraps up her coaching career she would love to go on to be the WNBA commissioner so she could further the mission of the league and grow the women’s game in any way that she could.
Growing up watching the WNBA, Easter wanted to be Seimone Augustus when she grew up. From Augustus’ days at LSU Easter modeled her game after her, aiming to get her strength, pull up jumper and three-point shooting to mimic Augustus’, saying that if she did, she could make it anywhere.
Easter makes sure that her team has their eyes on the league as well, putting together film of WNBA players doing similar things to their offense, setting great screens and being great cutters to demonstrate that there are women that do what the coaching staff wants the players to do. She still uses some NBA players as an example because her players are big fans of the league, though Easter believes they are also buying into the WNBA as well.
“We actually will record games too, and share that with them. Or we’ll send out group text messages like, ‘hey, these two teams are playing tonight, it’s a great game, you should watch it,’” Easter said. “And then even give kids particular players to focus on and say, ‘watch how she comes off ball screens, that’s something that we can add to your game’ or ‘you already do that but let’s take it to the next level’ and ‘watch her footwork,’ ‘watch how she releases her shot’ or ‘how quick she gets her feet down.’”
Easter has coaching idols as well. She said she looks up to every Black woman that is coaching at the highest level, noting Joni Taylor and Dawn Staley specifically.
“They continue to inspire me every single day to reach for that type of pedestal because I’m watching people that look like me do something that maybe when I was younger, I didn’t think I could do,” she said. “But I absolutely know that because they have set the stage and set the standards for what it is to be successful at that level that I can aspire to that same level of success.”
Her favorite part of coaching is to connect with the players, noting that once they trust you the sky’s the limit.
“I’m so big on the relationships because some people, they don’t have that role model or that person that they can always go to and I want to be that for anybody who needs it,” she said. “Even if it’s just ‘Coach Amber, I’m going to just come to your office and sit there and I’m going to listen to music.’ Like I want you to know that this is a safe space and the only way I can do that is through my relationships with you and just showing you who I am as an authentic individual and letting you know that I care about you.”
Easter has been involved with basketball for more than 20 years, something she is incredibly grateful for.
“I’ve been playing this game for a long time. And I think I’m better for it.”