LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Royce White’s road to the NCAA tournament took him past West Branch and Walcott (Iowa), Goodfield and Farmer City (Illinois), Franklin and Seymour (Indiana).
I-35, I-80, I-74, I-465, I-65, and a sliver of I-64. That was all on Tuesday.
While Iowa State’s men’s basketball team flew from Iowa to Louisville, White ate Honey Buns and listened to the music of Adele while his grandfather drove the 611 miles from Ames to here.
The Cyclones’ star power forward doesn’t like to fly. And, he has generalized anxiety disorder. The Anxiety Disorders Association of America says GAD is characterized by persistent, excessive, and unrealistic worry about everyday things.
White flew with his team to most of its road games this season. He didn’t have much choice when the Cyclones played in Texas.
“Sometimes I have to deal with the things the way I deal with them to give the team the best of me,” White said Wednesday before his team’s practice at the KFC Yum! Center.
“It’s just a matter of how I’m feeling and what’s easier for me. I don’t like flying. I can do it. I’ve been doing it since third-grade.”
The grandfather, Frank White of St. Paul, Minn., said “He’s my grandson and if this helps him get through it it’s the least I can do.
“I know earlier in the season he had a tough plane ride, and I think he was on the (arena) floor thinking about the plane ride home instead of focusing on the game.”
But that fear of flying helped White end up at Iowa State instead of the team ISU would likely play here on Saturday if it defeats Connecticut Thursday night in the NCAA’s second-round.
During his freshman season at the University of Minnesota, White pled guilty to theft and disorderly conduct after he was accused of shoplifting and pushing a mall security guard. Not long after that, the university extended a previous suspension when he was linked to a case that involved the theft of a laptop computer.
Law enforcement officers determined White did not steal the computer, and the charge was dropped. But the accusation stuck.
Still, this was a Minnesota high school “Mr. Basketball” when at Hopkins High in Minnetonka, a 6-foot-8 big-bodied, power forward with the passing skills of a point guard. He didn’t lack for suitors. One was a program the Cyclones will undoubtedly face Saturday if they defeat UConn, the Kentucky Wildcats.
Were it not for his issues with flying, White might today be part of the nation’s No. 1 club.
White suffered a panic attack from the prospect of flying to Lexington alone. His mother called Calipari to cancel the trip.
“I respect Coach Calipari so much,” White said. “I couldn’t even call him, that’s how down I was.
“It all worked out. Kentucky’s the No. 1 team in the country, so they didn’t really need me.”
Iowa State, however, did. Then-new ISU Coach Fred Hoiberg had spent the previous several years in the Twin Cities, as a player and then executive with the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves. There was questioning of Hoiberg in some circles when he took in White. After this season, in which White became a first-team All-Big 12 player and lead his team in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocked shots, the questioning has long stopped.
“Because of what happened at the University of Minnesota,” Frank White said, “people think he’s a thug, think he’s a terrible individual. They just don’t know him.
“Ames has really embraced him and I think he’s really embraced Ames. And that’s a really good thing for him.
“He’s succeeding in the classroom, which is not a surprise to me because he’s a smart kid. And he’s becoming mature.”
White is a 20-year-old with a lot of responsibility. He’s the focal point of an NCAA tourney team, he’s a student, he has to stay on top of his anxiety disorder with daily medication, and he has a 1-year-old son. The boy and his mother live with White in an Ames apartment.
“He’s taking care of the three of them with the scholarship and a Pell Grant and a phone call home to the family sometimes,” his grandfather said.
Also, there’s the matter of whether White will make himself eligible for this June’s NBA draft.
He is an awful free throw-shooter, a so-so defender, and there’s that anxiety disorder to consider. The NBA isn’t for the fragile, and flying is virtually a constant activity during the season.
However, those Internet talent-evaluators might want to double-check with Connecticut Coach Jim Calhoun.
“I was talking to a pro scout today who’s seen (White) four or five times,” Calhoun said, “and he just said he’s got some McHale inside.
“Right now I wouldn’t consider him a great shooter outside, but he just does things to help his team win.
“You don’t want to get polarized on him and get beat. He can help facilitate that. So it becomes very difficult.”
It might behoove White to stay at Iowa State for another year, but 20-year-old basketball players who want to play in the NBA hear a clock ticking.
“I think Royce’s goal has always been to play in the NBA,” Frank White said.
“When he was in the ninth-grade I took Royce to the (Negro Leagues’) Legacy Awards when his uncle, (Hall of Fame baseball player) Dave Winfield, was given an award. I asked David to talk to him.
“David said ‘What’s your goal?’ Royce said, ‘I want to play in the league.’ David said ‘What’s your second goal, or your option? Because you’re gonna need it.’ ”
That was several years ago now, and Winfield was just trying to keep the boy’s head on straight. But Internet talent-evaluators might want to talk to coaches and players who have faced White. He does have a ton of game, as about every Big 12 player and coach will attest.
If the Cyclones beat Connecticut and stun Kentucky, they would advance to Atlanta for the South Regional semfinals. How White would get to Georgia would be a great problem for the Cyclones to have.