Wiedmer: Iowa State's White could've been at UK

Wiedmer: Iowa State's White could've been at UK

March 17th, 2012 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports

LOUISVILE, Ky. -- The story was great. Especially after Iowa State beat defending national champ Connecticut on Thursday night to set up this evening's third-round South Regional game against top-ranked Kentucky.

According to legend, the Cyclones' best player, Royce White, was all set to transfer to Kentucky from Minnesota a couple of years ago when an anxiety disorder prevented him from boarding the plane.

UK coach John Calipari even said of the union that never was, "If he didn't want to get on the plane, maybe he just didn't want to come to Lexington. That's probably what I thought at the time."

And despite the Wildcats' outrageous collection of talent, there's little doubt that Cal could have found a spot for a 6-foot-8, 270-pound forward who's the only player in the nation to lead his team in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocked shots.

But an anxiety disorder was never the only reason for White, a Minnesota native, to spurn the Bluegrass for corn country.

"At the time I was having my first son, so it was important that I was in close proximity to my support system back in Minnesota," he explained. "It was important for my mother and [the baby's] mother for me to be around. It was important to be only three hours away."

This isn't to say that his lifelong anxiety disorder played no role.

In fact, White's continued fear of flying caused his grandfather, Frank White, to drive him the eight and a half hours from Ames to Louisville, a distance of more than 600 miles.

Yet even that doesn't the tell the whole White saga, of how the reason he left the University of Minnesota and Gophers coach Tubby Smith was at least partly because he was charged with shoplifting two shirts valued at roughly $100 from the Mall of America.

Or how police later accused him of stealing a laptop, which was the final straw that caused him to transfer.

"I'm a lot different person than I was two or three years ago," White told the media earlier this week. "I had a lot of immature philosophies about life. Now it's a little bit different -- little bit of reform, a lot of room still for growth."

Not that the Cyclones have benefited by White's arrival only. Four of their five starters are transfers, the other three being guard Chris Babb (Penn State), guard Scott Christopherson (Marquette) and guard Chris Allen (Michigan State).

Two other players are redshirting as transfers, and two others play limited minutes.

"Did I plan on bringing six of them my first year? No," said Cyclones coach Fred Hoiberg, who's concluding his second season at his alma mater. "It just happened to be a year where a lot of guys were leaving their schools. If I had rebuilt it with freshmen alone, it would have taken a long, long time."

The irony is, Hoiberg has spent a long, long time in Ames, dating back to his birth. He was such a popular player at Iowa State that they nicknamed him "The Mayor," because he was popular enough to run for mayor during his playing days, which ended in 1995 when he was the Big Eight's co-male athlete of the year.

So excited was he to return that he left a lucrative NBA front office gig with the Minnesota Timberwolves -- for whom he played a decade for -- to revive the Cyclones.

In an odd twist of fate, Hoiberg's freshman season came to an end against Kentucky in the 1992 NCAA tournament, the Cyclones losing 106-98 in the round of 32.

"I scored two of those 98 points and fouled out for the only time in my college career," Hoiberg recalled Friday.

"I remember [former ISU coach] Johnny Orr yelling at [then UK coach] Rick Pitino to get back in the coaching box the entire game. It was one of the most exciting games I've ever been a part of."

At least it was until White, Allen, Christopherson and Babb transferred to Ames and the Cyclones took just two seasons to return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2006 and win their first tourney game since 2000.

"Everybody is picking Kentucky," Hoiberg said of tonight's game. "But everybody was picking UConn, too."

And we already know how that turned out.