Oct. 23, 2013
Editor's note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Thursday, Aug. 8, highlighting one athlete from each of the 24 intercollegiate sports offered by the University of Iowa. More than 700 talented student-athletes are currently busy preparing for the 2013-14 athletics year at the UI. Hawkeyesports.com will introduce you to 24 Hawkeyes who, for one reason or another, are poised to play a prominent role in the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI in the coming year.
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Aaron White proved doubters wrong during his first two seasons with the University of Iowa men's basketball program. Now he wants to prove his head coach right.
"He's on the verge of becoming a superstar," said UI head coach Fran McCaffery. "His game is much more complete, and he's a fierce competitor. He is somebody I think has a chance to be first-team all-league and ultimately play in the NBA."
White, a 6-foot-9, 220-pound junior, believes he is ready to be the player his head coach describes.
"He thinks I am ready to be one of the best players in the league and in the country," said White. "That's what I have been working toward. That's what I want to be. I am glad he believes in me, I just have to go on the floor and prove it."
That's something White isn't afraid of. He has been proving himself since his days at Strongsville (Ohio) High School.
White had a standout prep career, finishing second in career scoring at Strongsville. He was a three-time all-conference; two-time all-district and third-team all-state selection as a senior, and was team MVP as a junior and senior.
In the landscape major college basketball, White wasn't seen as a blue-chip recruit. He didn't get the offers he expected.
"I had offers, but didn't have any from big schools," said White. "I was looking at Duquesne and Akron, but I always wanted to prove that I could play at this level. Thankfully, Fran McCaffery gave me the offer."
White arrived on the UI campus in the fall of 2011 with an Ohio-sized chip on his shoulder.
"It came from being under-recruited," he said. "Not a lot of Big Ten schools looked at me, let alone offered me, other than Iowa. I think about that in the back of my mind and play as the underdog. I try to play harder than the guy across from me."
White had a memorable first game as a Hawkeye, tallying a double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds in 18 minutes in a victory over Chicago State, but it wasn't until a road win at No. 11 Wisconsin on Dec. 31, 2011, that he felt comfortable. He made 6-of-7 shots for 18 points in the victory.
"The game at Wisconsin was a big memory for me, it was the game that things kind of clicked," said White. "I had struggled in the nonconference and at the beginning of the Big Ten, and that game, it all clicked."
White averaged 11.1 points and 5.7 rebounds as a freshman en route to Kyle Macy Freshman All-America and Big Ten All-Freshman team honors. He elevated his game from year one to year two, finishing his sophomore season by averaging 12.8 points and 6.2 rebounds en route to third team All-Big Ten honors. White led the Hawkeyes on the glass in each of his first two seasons.
White met many of the goals he set during his first two seasons at the UI, and he is continually adjusting his expectations.
"Every year, I have had a new mindset," he said. "Originally, my freshman year, I wanted to prove that other schools that didn't offer me should have, and I belong at a school like this. Last year, I had to prove that I could perform the same as my freshman year.
"This year, I have to prove that I'm one of the best players in the league, which I am going to try to do. This year and next, I have to prove I'm one of the best players nationally. Every step, I have to have a new mindset and goal in mind to keep getting better."
McCaffery says White is a special player because finds ways to be effective and impact the game every time he takes the floor.
"He seems to know one or two plays ahead of what's going on, and that's what the great ones do," said McCaffery. "From a cerebral standpoint, they can see the game differently from everybody else, and that's why he's special.
"Couple that with the fact he is long and athletic... now you have an All-America caliber player. For him, it's not necessarily one thing, everything has improved. You add the experience of playing with Team USA, getting the coaching he received and competing at that level... his game is as mature as it has ever been."
White's experience with USA Basketball at the World University Games in Russia this past summer helped him grow both on the court, and in a leadership capacity.
"I am more confident in my game, going up against guys overseas and some of the best players in the United States gave me confidence to move more freely on the floor and be more confident in my moves and game overall," he said.
"We need someone to step up and be a leader on this team," said White. "I want to take that step and be the most vocal on the team. It's only us out there when the game starts -- us five against the other five. You have to have a guy on the floor that is as vocal as the coach, because you can't always hear him throughout the game."
With White's fiery persona and ultra-competitive drive on the floor, he knows there will be give-and-take to get the most out of his teammates.
"It's a balance because you don't want to be so competitive that you're jumping down your teammates' throat or being negative toward them," he said. "It's the balance of wanting what is best for the team, but also being positive so they're able to do what they need to do on the floor as well."
With the NCAA Tournament being at the forefront of the team's goals, White says the key to the season will be improving throughout the year.
"We're going to try to get better every day and that will lead us to the great season we want," he said. "It has been a great ride and these last two years are going to be more fun with a lot of great memories ahead."
The UI men's and women's basketball teams will make its first public appearances at the Black and Gold Blowout on Friday inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena beginning at 8 p.m. (CT). Tickets are only $5 for adults and free for UI students and youth.