Up Close: Stilman White, Part I

WILMINGTON, N.C. --- By his senior year, Stilman White knew the routine well. A college coach would come to Wilmington to watch him play, leave impressed and he'd never hear from them again. Not a letter, not a phone call, nothing.

It wasn't that White had a bad attitude, poor grades or some shady handler. Instead, White came with a clause.

As a member of the Mormon church, White decided at a young age that -- like many Mormons -- he would go on a mission when he graduated high school. His father Shannon served his mission in California. His mother Erin served in Puerto Rico. Someday he would serve, too.

White viewed his mission as a valuable experience that would help him mature. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to devote himself exclusively to helping others.

"It brings a lot of happiness to people," White said. "It's the most important thing in my life right now."

Coaches on the other hand saw it as a complication. Why recruit a player who was unavailable for two years when you didn't have to?

Wilmington Hoggard coach Brett Queen said White's mission was a consistent hurdle and they rarely heard back after a coach learned of the mission.

"It was always tough," White said. "But I viewed it as if they didn't support it or like the idea, that just wasn't the school for me to go to."

White's commitment to his mission isn't surprising. He's always been heavily involved in the church and has seen first hand his parent's dedication to helping others. In addition to having four biological siblings, he also has an adopted sister, Beza, 6, from Ethiopia.

"The mission has been important ever since I was little. My parents raised me right I guess," White said with a laugh.

The idea that his faith could get in the way of his basketball career is ironic when listening to White talk about the sport's popularity in the Mormon church. White grew up watching tapes of Danny Ainge at BYU. As one of six kids, he spent most of his childhood playing pick-up games with his two brothers, Anders, 15, and Solomon, 10. He even traveled to Provo, Utah two years ago and played in a few pick-up games against Jimmer Fredette.

"In Utah, every church has a gym," White said. "Basketball is big in the Mormon faith."

White's workmanlike approach to basketball reflects his upbringing. He is a soft-spoken, unassuming kid -- a self described gym rat who doesn't fall into the typical Wilmington archetype. He's lived on Wrightsville Beach for the last five years but has never surfed. Instead, he spends most of his time working on his game at Hoggard or a local gym owned by UNC-Wilmington legend Brett Blizzard. He also worked some with former UNC walk-on Marc Campbell.

"I don't do much else besides basketball," White said. "It pretty much consumes my life."

Despite his commitment to basketball, White hadn't found a school ready to commit to him and his mission late into his senior year.

Meanwhile in Chapel Hill, Larry Drew II left North Carolina in the middle of the season. Drew's departure left an opening for White -- although he didn't realize it at the time.

White, who grew up a Utah fan, didn't keep up much with UNC basketball. He'd only been to Chapel Hill twice in his life and said he doesn't remember how he heard about Drew leaving.

"It was a blip in the news for me," White said. "I had no idea it would have an effect on me."

Late in February, White received a call from North Carolina assistant coach Jerod Haase, who was looking for someone to backup Kendall Marshall and had seen some of White's tapes. The UNC staff came to Hoggard to watch him workout and also asked him to visit for the Duke game March 5.

Queen says that he and White have had legendary debates about the Mountain West vs. the ACC during his four years at Hoggard. White always sided with the non-BCS schools and played the role of contrarian to the traditional powers.

But when he got to know Roy Williams and his staff, his point of view changed considerably. White said the staff was brutally honest with him about what they needed and also fully supported his mission.

"They viewed it as a positive, too, which I really appreciated," White said.

When Williams offered White a scholarship on March 28, White's conversion to a Tar Heel was complete. He discussed the offer with his parents that night and then called Williams back the next day to accept.

And for Carolina, White was willing to put his mission off for one year.

"It's North Carolina. That's just the brand name. You just can't pass up opportunities like that," White said. "It's the show in Chapel Hill. That's how I view it."

White said the honesty he experienced with the staff made a potentially tricky situation much easier. Williams made sure White knew that they wanted him to come back after his mission, which is what he wanted, too.

"They always stress about them giving you the hard truth of what they think," White said. "You can always appreciate that because you know what you're going into when you come up there. There are just no surprises."

Looking back, White said the period from February to his late March commitment was surreal. From UNC-Wilmington, Utah or BYU to college hoops royalty, White was rewarded for sticking to his values.

After his mission hindered his recruitment for three years, it turned out to be the one thing that delivered him to Chapel Hill.

"It all worked out," White said. "I'm pretty happy about where I'm going."

Check back on Tuesday for White's senior season highlight video reel, and then Wednesday for Part II of the feature story ...

Stilman White Profile

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