White Ready for Challenge

What a difference a year makes. Early last spring, Stilman White was preparing to go on a two-year Mormon mission. Now, the freshman point guard is preparing to lead No. 1 seed North Carolina into the Sweet 16 against No. 13 seed Ohio.

White expected a lot of different opportunities during his first year in Chapel Hill, but nothing quite like this.

"Definitely not," he said on Thursday, surrounded at his locker by reporters standing two-deep. "No, not in the Sweet 16, not in the NCAA Tournament like this."

The story of Stilman White is a unique one. A standout point guard at Hoggard (Wilmington, N.C.) High School, he drew interest from some programs around the country. However, as a member of the Mormon Church, White planned on serving his mission after graduating high school, which meant two years away from college and two years away from basketball.

"Some people, when they recruited me, they heard about my mission and I just didn't hear back from them and they viewed it as a negative," said White. A few schools, including BYU, Utah and UNC-Wilmington offered White a spot on the basketball team once he returned from his mission. White was all set to take that route.

"I planned on leaving right out of high school and going until North Carolina started recruiting me and they talked about going for a year here and then going [on my mission]," he said.

It was an opportunity White could not pass up.

It was also an ideal situation for the Tar Heels, who needed depth at point guard due to the midseason departure of Larry Drew II.

"We say, ‘Okay, now we have Kendall, who else do we have at point guard? Well, we have Dexter. Okay, and well next year that's all we have, so we're trying to look around for a point guard'," UNC head coach Roy Williams said.

Enter White, who was expected to be the third option at point guard this season. That plan changed when Dexter Strickland tore his ACL in January. White immediately became the primary backup to Marshall, playing sparingly in order to give the second team All-ACC point guard a breather.

"When he first got out there, we were a little scared that he might have an anxiety attack or pass out," Harrison Barnes said on Tuesday.

Since then, White has become more comfortable in his role as the backup point guard.

"He looks more fluid out there and he can kind of push the ball and get up and down," continued Barnes.

Just as White was getting comfortable with his new role, another wrench was thrown into the team's plan for the freshman. All eyes immediately turned to White after Marshall went down with a fractured wrist against Creighton last Sunday. White will be the lone true point guard on the roster and will join senior wing Justin Watts in running the Tar Heel offense.

"We have full confidence in him. If I'm not playing, then he'll still find a way to go out there and make the team better," said Marshall.

White averages just 4.3 minutes per game. In those minutes, White has put up 0.7 points and 0.6 assists per game. Due to that inexperience, it's understandable that most Tar Heel fans are nervous about White running the typically high-octane Carolina attack.

A closer examination of the numbers may ease the nerves of some. Since Dexter Strickland went down on January 19th, White has played 71 minutes during which he has only committed two turnovers. Taking care of the ball will be vital if Carolina is to get by Ohio, which ranks fourth nationally in steals.

Statistics aside, White has to play his game and not attempt to replicate Marshall's style.

"One thing of advice I tried to give him was ‘don't try to be me,'" Marshall said. "We don't have the same skill set. I just want him to go out there and play the way he's capable of playing and when he plays with confidence, he's a very good player."

Regardless of what happens on Friday night, White's story has already etched itself into Carolina basketball lore.

"This is the last time I'm going to be playing competitive basketball for awhile," White said. "So I've got to soak in the experience."

White has no regrets about his decision to forgo his mission in favor of a year in Chapel Hill. He calls the day he committed to play for Williams "one of the happiest days of my life."

It has certainly lived up to expectations.

"I've had a great experience here at North Carolina," White said on Thursday. "It's been a thrill ride of a year. I've got a lot of experiences and memories that I'll treasure forever and I've had a great time here."

North Carolina fans are hoping he is not done making memories.

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