By Rob Gray
AMES — A shirtless, recently-tattooed Royce White smiles, sits down and begins sharing his story, grasping two protein-rich drinks in one large hand.
It’s early this month, and he’s just completed a longer-than-average Iowa State basketball practice.
There’s an energy to the former crown jewel recruit’s pattern of speech, his smooth, quietly demonstrative gestures; an unscripted, but well-ordered flow that almost makes you forget you’re talking to a gifted basketball player.
But he isn’t.
This is a 6-foot, 8-inch, 270-pound vessel of versatility who weathered multiple legal troubles at Minnesota.
A 20-year-old father with an audacious plan, a clouded past and an under-control anxiety disorder.
A complex man intent on lifting a program, then changing the world.
In that order and on that scale.
“I don’t get much sleep,” said White, who enters Friday’s 7:30 p.m. South Padre Island Invitational game against Providence averaging a team-best 18.3 points and 10 rebounds. “Ever. And that’s because my mind is working at such a rapid rate. It’s a burden. It’s a sacrifice, you know? For somebody like me with an anxiety disorder, I probably shouldn’t do the things I do. My life should probably be as simple as possible … but it’s the path I’ve chosen, and I’m going to find a way to deal with it.”
Is White giving thanks, especially today, for his second chance with Coach Fred Hoiberg’s 3-1 Cyclones?
Is he sincere?
No question, in Ames or elsewhere.
“Stuff at (Minnesota) kind of set me back as far as how I felt about the game,” said White, who pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor criminal charges while a Gopher freshman. “Now I’m back at a place where I’m working hard and whatever comes, comes. Everything right now is about winning — and winning a lot. Winning the biggest prize there is.”
White quotes Socrates as naturally as he soars for a slam dunk.
He marries a passion for music and business to a steadfast desire to aid the afflicted.
He carefully peers beyond the margins, discerning gray areas where others see stark black and white shades.
“We have an open line of communication with all our players, but Royce comes in pretty much daily to my office,” ISU coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We talk more about life than we do about basketball. So he’s a very interesting kid.”
White traces his zest for competition back to his grandfather, Frank, who won a national intramural basketball title while attending Minnesota along with legendary Gophers such as Dave Winfield — a distant relative.
“He just encouraged me where I could do anything if I put my mind to it and it’s a possibility,” White said. “And from there, I just gradually started to get better. And better and better and better. And then going into high school, I was considered one of the elite. That was an honor. It all kind of matriculates from there. You’re kind of in that pool of people who are considered elite and it kind of gives you confidence, too.”
But White’s self-assurance came with a discordant accompaniment: Anxiety.
“I’ve always had it, per se,” White said. “And it’s such a tricky thing; there’s still a lot of research being done on it and it’s not all set in stone. But I’ve always had it since I was young. I used to throw up sometimes before games. In AAU tournaments, we’d drive these long distances to the game. I remember driving to LaCrosse (Wis.) one time, and it’s about an hour and a half — an hour 45 — from the (Twin) Cities and I remember getting sick on the way there and throwing up in the car all the way. That’s anxiety. That’s performance anxiety 101. And I think when I really found out I was in high school.”
It got worse for the top-20 Rivals.com recruit.
“It just probably mounted up to an anxiety overflow,” said White, who plans to be the central figure in a documentary about dealing with anxiety, along with the doctor he credits for his successful management of the disease, Mary Wilkens. “Which created an anxiety disorder. Which created a fear of panic attacks. So it’s a real complicated thing.”
White said anxiety made him “not himself.”
Now that it’s under control — a two or three, he said, not a seven or eight, he’s philosophical about its effects.
“It enables me to balance different things,” White said. “And my mind is real creative and it runs in a different way. It allows me to think about two different things at one time. That’s what helps me to be a growing, decent entrepreneur, I would say. And a growing, decent human being.”
Decency ranks as a core principal in White’s multi-faceted world.
He knows poverty and violence — and wonders how he can ameliorate it.
He’s developed mechanisms for accumulating wealth, including a record label (IAMU Records) — and simultaneously ponders how he can do good once the money piles up.
“I think that’s one of the things we’re having trouble with in this country: People with large wealth not being unselfish enough,” said White, who has formed IAMU Enterprises, Inc., which he calls his entertainment umbrella. “It’s all about me, me, me.”
White pledges to help set a selfless example for his 10-month-old son, Royce Alexander White II.
Royce II’s mother, Angelic Aguilar, has taken him to Cyclone games.
There’s also lap time with dad.
“That brings joy to me,” White said.
Those blissful moments can be fleeting.
Between class, hoops and business plans, White’s schedule, like his mind, never rests.
“It’s always one constant blur,” he said.
The journey to Ames was a whirlwind event, as well.
White pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct after a a Mall of America incident while a freshman at Minnesota in 2009. He was originally charged with theft and assault.
Coach Tubby Smith suspended him.
Months later, police questioned White about a laptop stolen from a dorm room.
He ended up facing a trespassing charge.
“That was kind of a bogus deal,” White said. “When I’m gone from the NCAA, I’ll say more about that.”
White joined the Cyclones last July.
Seeing ISU picked from seventh to ninth in the Big 12 this season miffs him.
“It makes me angry because I know how hard they work, my teammates,” White said. “It doesn’t make me personally angry because I’ve always been an underdog. I’m an underdog in life, being who I am and where I come from.”
The underdog possesses an uber-intellect, though. He can ably hold court on a variety of topics, from popular culture, to politics to relationships.
“We hang out every day,” said ISU guard Chris Babb, who has made eight of his last nine 3-point attempts. “Basketball is not all we are and it doesn’t really define who we are. … Rarely do we talk about basketball, except after a game.”
Basketball matters to White.
But it’s a vehicle rather than a destination.
“How important is it as far as me going to the next level or me getting sleep at night?” White said. “It is, but it isn’t. I love it. I hate losing, that’s for sure. I hate losing because I hate losing at anything. But I also strive to make it not consume me, because I think, especially where I come from, sports consumes too many.”
Hopes and dreams rise and fall from sideline to sideline.
Untapped talents go dormant, as a scoreboard becomes the only measuring stick of self-worth and of potential.
White, who thinks first and dunks later, won’t let that happen to him.
However arduous the trek.
Wherever it may lead, as a basketball player, father, student, businessman or philanthropist.
“I’m going to give my life to trying to make the world a better place,” White said. “That’s my personal success. And hopefully, when my son is old enough and any other kids I may have, they understand that the time I didn’t get to spend with them — or my brothers and sisters, the time I didn’t get to spend with them — was because I saw a bigger picture, and hopefully they’ll take it up, too.”