When he was at Strongsville High School in the Cleveland suburbs, Aaron White was trying to prove he could be a Big Ten player.
Two months into his junior season, the Iowa forward helps drive a team that looks like a major player in the Big Ten.
His is the kind of recruiting story involving fewer hypothetical stars and more results. At the midway point of his junior season, White’s best individual season is playing a big part in the overall success of Iowa, which improved to 12-3 and climbed to No. 16 in this week’s Top 25 after the Hawkeyes beat Ohio State, 84-74, last Sunday, marking Iowa’s first win in Columbus since 2004.
White had dozens of friends and family on hand for that game, and he got to visit with them all briefly after the game. Just briefly, though. He had a plane to catch. His team has work to do — work that will now be done under a brighter spotlight than before.
"This is my fourth time playing Ohio State and first time getting a win, so that made it big," White said. "But, yes, it was big to do it in front of my friends and family.
"We’ve proven all year long we were one of the top teams in the Big Ten and this finally puts it on our resume. We’ve had a great season so far and our one downfall has been not closing out games.
"It’s Coach (Fran) McCaffery’s fourth year and it’s my third year here. This is what we aimed for. He’s really turned it around. We’re finally in the rankings, finally being talked about nationally."
The 6’8 White’s 13.8 points and 6.6 rebounds per game have certainly helped. He’s one of three upperclass starters for the Hawkeyes, who made the NIT in his first two seasons but are zeroing in on the NCAA tournament this season, having lost only to Villanova, Iowa State and Wisconsin, all of whom entered this week ranked in the top 10.
Not that rankings matter much. The second-leading scorer in Strongsville history, White was an all-state selection but didn’t garner much early interest on the recruiting trail. While playing for the Ohio Basketball Club AAU program, he did catch the eye of Iowa assistant coach Sherman Dillard, who began recruiting White and summoned McCaffery for a longer look.
Now, McCaffery says he never cared who else was recruiting White. In fact, he’s glad not many other big-conference programs did.
"When you see a guy often in different settings and get to know him a bit, you can assess not only his character but his skill set," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. "He was very skilled, but you’d see him doing things the right away. He has a great feel for how to play.
"We would watch him and he’d be doing things you can’t teach. He thrived in games because he knew how to get open, how to get rebounds.
"That carried over. He came in as a freshman and he put himself in the right positions. I wasn’t starting him right away but I probably should have been."
White has scored in double figures in all three of his college seasons, and he was good enough last year to earn an invite to try out for the USA Basketball World University Games team. He made the team and averaged 6 points per game as a reserve, and earlier this season he passed 1,000 points for his Iowa career.
In 2011 Scout.com listed White as a three-star prospect. He was a player who didn’t crack the national top 100 or achieve any kind of national ranking. Lots of schools came to Strongsville to look — including much of the Big Ten — but only Iowa, Duquesne and MAC schools offered.
"It was the only big school that offered me and I wanted to prove to myself that I could play at this level," White said. "No other BCS Conference school offered me, and I took it and I wanted to prove to everyone else I could play at this level.
"This was my opportunity. I love playing for Coach McCaffery."
He’s making the most of it, too. After the Ohio State game, he pointed it out that it was his first time playing on CBS, an opportunity saved for the Big Ten’s most powerful and glamorous programs. More opportunities probably await; White already knows the importance of making the most of them.
"This one," he said after the Ohio State game, "proves to us what we thought all along."