Bloomington, Ind. – Mike White has yet to play a minute of basketball at IU, but he's already turning his teammates' heads – and earning nicknames.
"Around the basket, Mike has an incredible vertical, and he's so strong," says junior guard A.J. Ratliff. "I guess that's why they call him King Kong."
Indiana's version of "King Kong" stands at 6-6 and is a chiseled 232 pounds, a spring signee for Coach Kelvin Sampson out of Texas' Lee Junior College. He's expected to contribute on an IU frontline that is headlined by D.J. White, but also features Ben Allen and fellow junior college transfer Lance Stemler.
While Stemler and Allen are best known for their ability to shoot the ball, White's on-court presence will be all about everything else. Sampson's arrival in Bloomington signaled a focus on playing the sort of hard-nosed defense and physical brand of basketball that he was known for at Oklahoma, and that's a style that fits White perfectly.
"He wants us to be tougher than any other team we play," White said. "Just out-hustle them and be physical with them and beat them that way on defense. That's my game – defense, hustle and being physical."
His teammates have taken notice. D.J. White, for one, thinks the Springhill, La., native can be one of the biggest surprises in the conference this winter.
"I feel he's going to be one of the best rebounders in the league," D.J. White said. "He's very strong, great leaping ability…I'm not going to say he is a Charles Barkley, but that type of player. Rebounding, he can score a little bit. I feel he's that type of player."
While comparisons to one of the NBA's all-time best forwards might be a bit premature, Mike White admits Barkley was one of his favorite players as a youngster, someone he tried to model his game after. Now, he's hoping to bring that same relentless style to Sampson's Hoosiers, a team that struggled on the glass a season ago.
Indiana owned just a +1.1 rebounding margin in 2005-06, ranking seventh in the Big Ten. Sampson's Oklahoma team, by contrast, had a +8.9 rebounding margin, which ranked fourth nationally. That included a 420-259 edge on the offensive glass.
White might not be able to single-handedly turn around IU's fortunes on the glass, but he'll likely be a big part of it with Sampson in charge.
White's biggest contributions might come on the defensive end and on the glass, but he thinks he can be a factor offensively as well. He said he has range that extends out to 15-17 feet, and although he'll spend the majority of his time in the paint, Sampson has let him know that he'll have the freedom to face up on occasion.
"He has already told me one-on-one with bigger guys I can take them outside," said White.
But it will be in close proximity to the basket where IU fans will see White the most, banging with the conference's big bodies. With that in mind, White is hoping that the physical reputation that the Big Ten has long carried will allow him to play that style once the Hoosiers get the season underway next month.
"The more physical you can be, the better my game can be," White said.
White Creating a (Nick)name for Himself
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