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White leaving unfinished legacy

BY JACOB SHEYKO | MARCH 06, 2015 5:00 AM

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In January 2011, Strongsville High School senior Aaron White attended an Iowa basketball game — the Hawkeyes were in Columbus to take on Ohio State. White got an opportunity to watch his future team in action.

Iowa lost by 22 points.

After the game, a small gathering of Iowa players and coaches congregated. Among them was first-year Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery. McCaffery, in many ways, was viewed as the first step in a long process of bringing Iowa basketball back to its winning tradition.

McCaffery turned to White, who had just witnessed Iowa drop its sixth-straight Big Ten game.

“It’s going to be better when you get here,” McCaffery recalled saying to White. “It’s going to be better because you’re here.”

Just over four years later, McCaffery’s statement has rung true.

Fan interest has returned to Iowa City as its team likely sealed a ticket to a second-straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament. For the third-straight season, the Hawkeyes won 20 games. The team that White watched dismantle Iowa in 2010, Ohio State, has been victim to twice to the Hawkeye this season.

Much of this is because of White, who will be one of four seniors honored Saturday on Senior Day. 

White arrived in Iowa City as a recruit with just one Big Ten offer, but he will leave as one of the most accomplished players in Iowa’s history.

“People can talk about personal accolades, stats, All-Big Ten, stuff like that,” White said. “But the thing I’m most proud of is how much the program changed in my four years I’ve been here.”

He may not want to talk about accolades — he has said and continues to say he’ll enjoy them when the season ends — but they are important.

Accounting for his games still left to played, White will likely leave Iowa as a top-two scorer in program history, a top-three rebounder, first in games played, and first in free throws made and attempted.

He’ll have been part of a minimum of 83 victories. And for a program that had four-straight losing seasons before White showed up, he has have never gone through one.

Pretty good for a high-school recruit only one Big Ten scholarship offer, something White carries with him to this day.

“You would think that would wear off,” White said about the proverbial chip on his shoulder. “But it really hasn’t.”

White wasn’t under-recruited — he had plenty of offers to play college basketball. Rather, he was overlooked by bigger schools.

For a while there were doubts on whether he could play in the Big Ten, a conference noted for its physicality and toughness. Those doubts quickly dissipated with the then-freshman’s 18-point performance in Iowa’s Dec. 2011, win over No. 11 Wisconsin.

“I’ve always gone back to that game,” White said. “You could say it was a breakout game in a sense.”

Soon enough, White proved that he belonged, and he brought teammates along with him.

“Then people want to come play with him,” McCaffery said. “So he’s helped us in recruiting, and he’s sold our staff, our institution, his teammates, the league, everything that you want him to do.”

Despite the numbers, White plays unlike most superstars.

He is a capable, albeit not great shooter. He doesn’t hunt shots but still makes his imprint on nearly every game. He’s brought Carver-Hawkeye to its feet countless times, yet still surprises people when they see his 6-9, roughly 225 pound frame rising high above the rim.

Basketball IQ, surprising athleticism, and hard work have got him to this point. That and hustle.

There was plenty of that.

“I don’t know that I’ve seen a faster kid down the floor,” Nebraska head coach Tim Miles said. “… He’s just faster than everybody down the floor.”

After each home game, White will walk into the Hadley Room. He’ll go to the same spot every time, opting to sit down as the horde of media members ask him questions about the game.

But answers from White are unlike any of his teammates.

Ask him about a specific possession, he’ll describe it to a tee, from what he was doing, what his teammates were doing, to what the opponent tried to do.

Ask him about an aspect of the game, he’ll cite specific statistics with no stat sheet in sight.

Ask him about a future opponent, he’ll point out something he saw on tape.

So much of White’s career at Iowa has been a result of his basketball IQ and memory. Thursday, he corrected a reporter who said the Hawkeyes won 10 games the season before he arrived. They won 11.

He can often be found watching game film, even directly after games. Teammate and roommate Gabe Olaseni said several times he’s seen White borrow an assistant coach’s laptop to watch a game that took place only an hour before.

White knows his limitations, baits opponents into making uncharacteristic plays, and often gets to the free-throw line on IQ alone.

“He’s mentally on a different wavelength from everybody else,” McCaffery said. “… Literally, a coach on the floor.”

He’s also a senior, one of the best players in Hawkeye history, and one of the main reasons winning has returned to Iowa basketball.

“I’m thrilled that his career went the way that it did for him, because he came in here, and he didn’t know what it was going to be like, either,” McCaffery said. “He just wanted a chance to play in the Big Ten, and we gave it to him, and he took full advantage of it.”

Follow @JacobSheyko on Twitter for updates, news, and analysis about the Iowa basketball team.


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