The Dagger: College Basketball Blog

Big 12 preview: Royce White aims to capitalize on second chance

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

Royce White media day

On the day he packed up his dorm room, withdrew from the University of Minnesota and abandoned his dream of starring for his hometown school, Royce White was only sure of one thing: He never wanted to play basketball again.

White's passion for basketball had steadily eroded during a freshman year marred by legal trouble and scathing criticism. Minnesota suspended the talented forward indefinitely and prohibited him from practicing with the team in November 2009 after police arrested him for shop-lifting at a department store in mid-October and named him a suspect in the theft of a laptop weeks later.

More from The Dagger's Big 12 Preview

MONDAY: Big 12 projections and storylines to watch
TUESDAY: Iowa State's Royce White aims to capitalize on second chance.
WEDNESDAY: Ex-Oklahoma guard Michael Neal projects the league
THURSDAY: Ranking the 15 best non-league Big 12 games
FRIDAY: Q&A with Baylor point guard Pierre Jackson

Although friends invited White to shoot around or play pickup games with them after he left school in February 2010, his embarrassment at not living up to his immense hype made him reluctant to face his peers. The time he previously devoted to lifting weights, running sprints or shooting jump shots he instead spent by himself in the music studio at his best friend's house jotting down lyrics, composing songs on the keyboard and formulating plans to launch a record label.

"To be bluntly honest, I was totally done with basketball," White said. "Music had become a big passion of mine and my entrepreneurial interests were something I wanted to pursue. Basketball is a time-consuming thing for someone who wants to do those types of things, but there must be some passion still burning in there because I came back to it. I still want to do it and I still want to do it full time."

That White regained his fondness for basketball and accepted Iowa State's offer of a fresh start is one of the biggest reasons the rebuilding Cyclones enter the 2011-12 season with renewed optimism. The former five-star recruit is the highest profile of four newly eligible transfers who hope to team with returning starters Scott Christopherson and Melvin Ejim to lead Iowa State to its first NCAA tournament berth since 2005.

What led White to reconsider giving up basketball was a series of conversations in May and June of last year with his mother and a family friend who serves as a mentor to him. They patiently but firmly told him it would be foolish to waste the talent that enables him to make plays other 6-foot-8, 270-pound big men lack the agility, athleticism or court vision to pull off.

"If he really lost the joy for playing basketball and competing, then it wouldn't have concerned me that he stopped playing, but I thought he needed a fresh start," said Rebecca White, Royce's mother. "Once he got back to playing a little bit, it just all started to come back. It was like a rebirth."

The greatest challenge for White since enrolling at Iowa State is finding an appropriate balance between basketball, academics, composing music and his numerous charitable and entrepreneurial goals. {YSP:MORE}

The self-taught pianist and music major has written more than 100 songs in the past 18 months. He also has started filming a documentary called "An Anxious Mind" in order to educate people about the anxiety disorder he has suffered from since high school. And besides the fledgling record label he and some Minneapolis friends launched last year, White has dreams of one day starting a bottled water company and a clothing line.

Although White admits "there are still days where basketball isn't fun" and he worries constantly about being spread too thin to reach his full potential in any of his pursuits, he has not once considered quitting basketball again since coming to Iowa State.

Part of that is because he genuinely enjoys spending time with his new coaches and teammates. Part of that is because he recognizes basketball could someday provide the money or publicity he needs to accomplish some of his wide-ranging off-the-court goals. The biggest reason, however, is he's determined to redeem himself for his troubles at Minnesota and prove something to the critics who declared him a troublemaker or a bust.

"There's definitely a piece of it that's personal, but I'm trying to channel that personal vendetta to help the team," White said. "Having a selfish reason for coming back and channeling it into an unselfish style of play will balance out. A lot of naysayers said a lot of things that I didn't agree with back when things were happening at Minnesota. I'm not angry at anybody. Everyone has a right to believe what they want to believe. But I'm just hoping that after this upcoming season, people have a different opinion."

It's frustrating to White's longtime friends and family that the incidents at Minnesota still shape his public image because the affable, intelligent guy they know doesn't fit the troubled athlete stereotype.

They've seen him write a fictional fairytale in sixth grade and dabble in poetry throughout high school. They've seen him teach himself how to play the piano at age 17. They've seen him write songs influenced by an eclectic mix of artists such as Prince, Bob Marley and the Beatles.

What drew White to basketball as a kid in spite of his many other interests was that so many of his family members were passionate about the sport. His grandfather was a referee, his father played basketball in college and his mother and aunt both played as well.

Thanks to his sturdy 6-foot-8 frame, his ability to pass or score in the post and his surprisingly consistent jump shot, White became a consensus top-25 recruit by his sophomore year and began receiving scholarship offers from elite programs soon afterward. He chose Minnesota late in his junior year because his rapport with coach Tubby Smith was excellent and he relished the chance to help turn around his hometown program.

The major warning sign for Minnesota that White might be a character risk came in 2008 when he transferred to Hopkins High School in Minneapolis for his senior year after nearby DeLaSalle dismissed him for academic misconduct. Even so, White appeared to assuage any concerns his senior year by behaving well enough that Hopkins basketball coach Ken Novak described him as a model student and insisted "he wasn't the problem everyone thinks he is."

Neither White nor his mom will divulge much about what went wrong at Minnesota, but White told reporters at the time he thought it was unfair the police dragged out their investigation into the laptop theft for months without pressing charges or dropping the case. Furthermore, White's mother still bristles at some of the criticism her son received during his suspension.

"The first time most people talk to Royce, I think they immediately realize the selfishness and arrogance that has been attached to him is just not there, nor has it ever been," Rebecca White said. "Was there some maturing that needed to happen? Absolutely. But was it ever the shedding of selfishness and narcissism? It has never been that with Royce."

The break from basketball enabled White to spend up to 12 hours a day in the studio exploring his passion for playing and writing music, but eventually his desire to play basketball returned.

One of the first Division I coaches to express interest in giving him a second chance was Iowa State's Fred Hoiberg, who previously worked in the Minnesota Timberwolves front office and was familiar with White's background. Hoiberg did his due diligence, getting glowing reviews on White from his teachers, coaches and even Tubby Smith before inviting the forward to campus for a face-to-face visit with the coaching staff and athletic administrators.

"We did talk to a lot of people," Hoiberg said. "This wasn't a decision we made in five minutes. We did a lot of homework. When he came in, I had an open mind and wanted to make my own impression. From the very first time he came in, he was an impressive kid."

The appeal of Iowa State to White was similar to what initially drew him to Minnesota. It was close to home, he had a good relationship with the head coach and he relished the challenge of turning around a struggling program.

"Legacy is big to me," White said. "I always want to be a part of something big. I definitely like to help out the underdog rather than go to a place that's already successful and be a part of the chain. It makes it more fun."

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Royce White II

The way Hoiberg tells it, White has exceeded expectations on and off the court during his first 13 months in the program.

He maintained a GPA of better than 3.0 both semesters while sitting out last year. He worked to improve his ball handling and the consistency of his jump shot. He altered his diet to reduce his body fat. And he has been one of Iowa State's hardest workers in conditioning drills and in the weight room, recently bench pressing 185 pounds a ridiculous 26 times.

Hoiberg tries to diminish expectations for White this season by pointing out that he hasn't played a competitive game in more than two years, but it's tough to take him seriously when he also calls White "as talented as anyone in our conference" in the same conversation.

"He's as gifted a passer at his size as I've seen," Hoiberg said. "He's very unselfish, almost to the point where I have to tell him he's got to be a little more selfish at times, especially when he gets the ball near the basket. As a shooter, I'd have loved to play with him because he delivers passes on point."

Hoiberg's excitement about White has spread to the rest of the citizens of Ames. White says strangers approach him at football games, at the grocery store or even at the gas station to inform him they've purchased season tickets and they can't wait to watch him play.

The widespread enthusiasm is reminiscent of the days leading up to the start of his freshman season at Minnesota two years ago, but this time White insists he's mature enough to handle it.

"I just try to be very cautious now because I know being a college athlete is a very dangerous life," White said. "Any small thing can be a bigger thing than it's supposed to be, so I try to steer clear of trouble and I always advise my teammates to do the same thing."

More conference previews from the Dagger:

ACC: Lessons from the pros keep North Carolina humble and hungry, ACC projections and storylines to watch, Ex-Wake Forest star Ish Smith scouts the league, Ranking the 15 best non-league ACC games, Q&A with Florida State junior Michael Snaer

Atlantic 10: Temple's Micheal Eric hopes to seize his chance, A-10 projections and storylines to watch, Ex-Xavier star Byron Larkin scouts the league, Ranking the 15 best non-league A-10 games, Q&A with St. Louis guard Kwamain Mitchell

Big Ten: How Zack Novak became Michigan's emotional leader; Big Ten projections and storylines to watch ; Ex-Ohio State star Jim Jackson scouts the league; Ranking the 15 best non-league Big Ten games; Q&A with Michigan State forward Delvon Roe

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