Driven To Succeed

LOUISVILLE – Royce White's trip from Ames, Iowa to the NCAA Tournament at the KFC Yum! Center took almost nine hours. That's because the Iowa State forward decided to travel by automobile rather than board an airplane with his teammates.

White's grandfather, Frank White, did the driving while Royce settled into the passenger seat and occupied himself with other things.

"Nothing," Royce said Wednesday when asked what the two talked about during the trip. "I listened to Adele on the way down. No talking. There was the occasional, ‘There's a gas station, get out and stretch your legs.' A lot of Honey Buns; I was buried in Honey Buns. But other than that, there wasn't that much talking."

White, a 6 foot 8, 270-pound matchup nightmare, will be Connecticut's biggest obstacle in the second round of the NCAA South Region Thursday night (9:15 p.m., TBS). White is the only player in the nation to lead his team in scoring (13.1), rebounding (9.2), assists (5.1), steals (1.2) and blocks (0.9).

"They're a very unique team in the fact that Royce White is their point guard, basically," Texas coach Rick Barnes said this week. "He creates situations that you're normally not in."

White is unique on and off the floor. He creates situations and matchup problems for opponents on the floor. And since he must deal with the anxiety disorder that he has struggled with since childhood, he may be the most unique athlete in this year's NCAA Tournament.

He doesn't enjoy flying but he does. He could have flown with the Cyclones to Louisville but decided the road trip with his grandfather would be the best idea.

"In order for me to make sure I'm at my best for my teammates – this is Scott Christopherson's last go-around, this is Chris Allen's last go-around – it was better for me to drive," he said. "I feel better when I drive. It would be selfish of me not to take an eight or nine hour drive because of a one-hour flight."

Coach Fred Hoiberg and the Cyclones give their star the freedom to travel by any method he desires as long as he is there in time. Hoiberg has revitalized Iowa State's program in just two years, primarily because of transfers such as White (Minnesota), Allen (Michigan State), Chris Babb (Penn State) and Anthony Booker (Southern Illinois).

A buzz started to build in Ames as the transfers practiced with the Cyclones last season and much of the anticipation centered on White, one of the top 20 prep recruits from the class of 2009. He was forecast then as first-round NBA Draft pick and the Minneapolis native figured to be a favorite son playing for the Minnesota Gophers.

But he never played a collegiate game until arriving in Ames. During his freshman season at Minnesota, he was suspended from the team after an incident at the Mall of America. After pleading guilty to disorderly conduct and theft, he left Minnesota after being charged with trespassing in connection to the theft of a laptop on campus.

"I left [Minnesota] because of things that were going on at the time with the campus police and things like that around the campus that I was uncomfortable with," White said. "It was all a learning experience. The main reason I left was I didn't want to be a distraction to the team."

White considered Georgetown but in 2010 it appeared he would transfer to Kentucky. Coach John Calipari called one night and wanted White to travel to Lexington the next day to sign an official letter of intent.

White couldn't get on the plane. He essentially had a panic attack, called his mother and told her to cancel the trip.

"Coach Cal said you've got to come tomorrow and I was like, ‘Whoa . . . hey, now,' " White said. "It was tough for me because I respect Coach Cal so much. I couldn't even call him. That's how down I was about it. It was OK. It all worked out. Kentucky is the No. 1 team in the country, so they didn't need me."

White says it is a "Cinderalla story" that Kentucky and Calipari are playing in the South Region in Louisville this weekend as well. If No. 8 seed Iowa State (22-10) gets past No. 9 UConn (20-13), White could get a chance to play against top-seeded Kentucky in the third round.

But no matter what, White will be at the center of everything Iowa State tries to do in this tournament. And White can handle that now because he says he has spent the past two years "growing up."

"The key to their team, in my opinion is Royce White," said Kansas coach Bill Self, whose Jayhawks were 1-1 against Iowa State in Big 12 play this season. "He is an awfully, awfully, awfully difficult matchup because there's not very many point centers out there. You've heard of point forwards or [small forward] that can play the point. This is a true center – a college center – that can play point. And he just does a tremendous job with it, has great vision and when he's on top of his game, he's about as good as there is."

His ability to pass has set the stage for Iowa State's three-point attack. The Cyclones have four players – Christopherson, Allen, Babb and Tyrus McGee who can pop from three-point range. They have a combined 813 three-pointers in their careers. Iowa State ranked 13th nationally with 8.6 three-pointers per game.

"He's awfully good," Missouri coach Frank Haith said. "He has great vision and great feel. I think he gets excited more about assists than he does scoring. That's a great quality to have, particularly in a guy of his talent and ability - and a big guy.

"Royce is such a tough matchup because you put a big guy on him he'll take you off the bounce. Put a smaller guy on him he'll post you up. He's the guy that runs their offense. It does put pressure on you when you play a team that can really stretch you out like they can."

Iowa State's players have to be alert at all times because White will throw the unexpected pass, including behind the back. He attributes his passing skills to his enormous hands.

And yet he still does everything else well. Against Texas A &M in January, White had 10 points, 18 rebounds and 10 assists. Going against Kansas – with big men Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey inside – White punched out with 18 points and 17 rebounds.

"We've seen it all," Hoiberg said of the defensive strategies used against ISU. "We've seen zones, a lot of man, some pressure man, some sagging off man, we've seen double teams coming from the baseline, doubles coming from the top – and we're ready for all that.

"We've attacked it all very well. The big thing for us is to get people in the right spots and try to attack whatever defense the opposing team plays."

Hoiberg wasn't sure what the Cyclones were getting in White. Until a trip to Italy last summer with the Cyclones, White had not played a game of basketball for two years. And it hasn't been just a matter of maturing. For White, the battle against his anxiety is constant.

He still gets sick to his stomach before games. He still wakes up numerous times during the night and sometimes calls his mother just for some peace of mind. He still has to control his emotions before walking on the court before 20,000 people.

"I've changed a lot the last two years," he said. "I've become a guy who emphasizes being selfless. That's just the way I live my life. When I was young, I was young-and-gunnin'. I was a gunslinger, a maverick, you know.

"It took some things out of me to go back and refine who I was. Now my goals are different. My anxiety is a gift and a curse. It allows my brain to work in a way that most people's don't. There's also the hindering part. I get fatigued sometimes. It's something I'm working through, just like diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer or heart problems."

Quite simply, White has taught himself to deal with it. And heading into the game against UConn, he just might be the most confident guy on the floor – and the best teammate.

White drove almost nine hours to prove that.

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