July 28, 2009

Rebs hope White's success carries over

For those still somewhat unfamiliar with Terrico White, ESPN.com's Andy Katz's recent story on Ole Miss' sophomore guard was certainly enlightening.

For those who saw what the Memphis, Tenn., product did in adverse conditions as a freshman for the Rebels last season, Katz's article provided confirmation that White has a special skill set and could be the centerpiece for Ole Miss' return to the NCAA tournament in March.

White scored nine points and added a block and a steal in the United States' 88-80 win over Greece in the gold medal game of the FIBA Under-19 World Championships earlier this month in Auckland, New Zealand. White averaged 7.4 points and 2.6 rebounds for the American squad during its 9-0 run to the gold medal.

However, it was White's play in the semifinal win over Croatia that got the attention of American coaching staff, a group led by Pittsburgh's Jamie Dixon. As Katz chronicled, Croatia jumped out to an early lead and led 11-6 after the first quarter, one in which the U.S. team missed its first seven shots.

Then White knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers, swining momentum back to the Americans and ultimately leading the U.S. team to the title, the first for an American U-19 team since 1991.

"We were dead in the water against Croatia, in a game to go to the finals," USA assistant Chris Lowery, the head coach at Southern Illinois, told Katz for the ESPN.com piece. "Then he comes in and hits those treys like it's nothing to him. He had no facial expression, no emotion. They were big-time pull-ups and that's what got us going.

"Terrico did a tremendous job for us defending. (Ole Miss coach) Andy (Kennedy) has a great player. I'm not sure why so many people passed on him, but he's very, very talented."

White considered leaving Ole Miss for the NBA following his freshman season _DraftExpress.com currently projects White as the No. 30 overall selection in the 2010 NBA draft _ but he ultimately decided he wasn't quite ready. He said the experience of playing international basketball helped him expand his game.

"I think I did pretty good," White said. "My focus was really just to get better on defense. That was the main focus going over there. My offense was pretty straight. ...(Other national teams) do a lot of ball screens and screen-and-rolls. They do a lot of screens. ...(Dixon's) main focus is defense, so playing with him makes you play defense and want to have fun playing defense. He really helped me get better with my defense."

While the weather was rainy and cold in New Zealand and the food was "horrible," the 6-foot-5 White said the experience has also helped to enhance some of the intangible aspects of his game.

"This experience has really helped me being a leader, being more vocal with the team," White said.

White played a lot of point guard for Ole Miss last season after Chris Warren went down with an ACL tear in a December loss to Louisville in Cincinnati. White dominated opposing point guards in the SEC, leading the Rebels to a 7-9 league mark and keeping them in contention for an NIT bid until the final week of the season, when the run of injuries and the reliance on youth finally caught up with Kennedy's team.

Dixon, however, used Kennedy at shooting guard and small forward, letting him complement the point guard duo of Butler's Shelvin Mack and Pittsburgh's Ashton Gibbs.

"We had him at the two or the three and he had a couple of deals where he would catch the ball and jump over people, dunk over people," Lowery told ESPN.com. "He's like 'Cool Hand Luke.' He never gets high, never gets too low. It shows in his game. He could miss 10 shots in a row and miss the biggest shot and act like it's no sweat. That's his demeanor."

What was surprising to Lowery and the American staff wasn't shocking to those who saw White play last season. From his highlight-reel dunk in a home win over Kentucky to a 29-point effort in a win at Arkansas, White repeatedly put the Rebels on the back of his 6-foot-5 frame and carried them to surprising wins.

A season later, Ole Miss hopes White can carry over his success on the wings in international play to SEC play and beyond. Warren, a natural point guard with great penetration skills, has been cleared for full activity, and White figures to join Eniel Polynice, Trevor Gaskins and Zach Graham on the wings on what should be an explosive offensive team.

"His experience should be very helpful to his continued growth both on and off the court," Kennedy said. "It was a great opportunity to represent our country."

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