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#TGW: Thankful to be Home

Nov. 29, 2015

By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word

– As the great family holiday approaches, James White has plenty to be thankful for — chiefly the chance to come home and do his thing near his parents.

Georgia Tech’s graduate student post man/pogo stick/road runner didn’t follow a typical path to The Flats, but then he’s not a standard player.

It didn’t take long after White enrolled last summer after graduating from Arkansas-Little Rock for head coach Brian Gregory to label the 6-foot-8 forward as the most athletic Yellow Jacket. Through four games, the former Jonesboro High star is Tech’s third-leading rebounder (5.2 per game) and is third with five blocked shots while just 10th in minutes played (12.7).

Even while the Jackets missed a notable Thanksgiving Day parade in nearby Manhattan last weekend, when they took on Arkansas and Villanova in Brooklyn’s Barclays Center in the NIT Preseason Tipoff, White will continue celebrating.

“Overall, the transition is going great,” White said. “I’m back home, and I have friends on the team I’ve known for a long time. It’s going really well.”

Living something of a dream now with Otis and Linda White less some 30 minutes south of the Tech campus, White had to go away after high school.

Although a fine player while averaging 19 points, eight rebounds and four blocked shots per as a senior for the Cardinals, he was abundantly lean. He still is, but at about 226 pounds, there’s more mean in him than in 2011.

Over time, he grew stronger and became more like his sister, Crystal, a 6-5 rebounder and shot blocker for LSU and Duke a little more than a decade ago.

“Coming out of high school, my body wasn’t there yet so it was a lot of low majors and mid-majors [offering scholarships],” he said. “Arkansas-Little Rock was the best fit for me.”

A journey to the Heartland fetched some tough times.

White, 22, played just two games as a freshman in 2011-12, and took a medical redshirt with tendonitis in a knee. A season later, he started nine games and played in 32, and as a junior grew into more of a scoring role. He averaged 11.6 points and 6.1 rebounds in 28 starts. Last season, he put up 11.9 points and 6.6 rebounds per outing before a stress fracture in his tibia ended his season after 15 games.

With 25 blocked shots, his reputation was established, but he wasn’t so sure his style would fit any longer as UALR changed head coaches after the season. He saw the ability to graduate in the summer with a degree in health education, and he still wanted to play college hoops.

So, on spring break, he visited Tech.

“I came back home just to visit, and I was already asking for my release so it was an unofficial but it felt official to me,” White recalled. “They kind of sold me and my father that if you want to better yourself as a man this is the spot for you.”

Gregory knew, “absolutely nothing,” about the young man … for a minute.

“I learned quickly. You were able to watch film and see the things that he can do,” the Tech coach said. “It took one face-to-face meeting with him and his Dad to see the character of the kid and the core values. It was a perfect match.”

After a disappointing season, Tech coaches built a plan: get leaner, deeper, add scoring options and play faster. Former Virginia Tech shooting guard Adam Smith transferred in, and film study suggested White would fit in utility so Gregory and Co. put together a sales pitch.

“We started showing him the opportunities, how he was different than our other post players, our [evolving] style of play and how it fit some of the things he did well,” Gregory explained. “At the same time we emphasized that even though it was only going to be a year, it was a commitment for a lifetime.

“He was going to be able to stay in town and be able to continue to work on his master’s degree and have this as a home base. He’s going to be able to play professionally, and have this as a place to continue to develop as a player and work on his masters.”

Enrolled in building construction with a concentration on facilities management, White is re-building himself.

His role is different in that he moves even more than for UALR. That versatility has shown up.

In the season opener against Cornell, he made 6-of-7 shots, scored 14 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in just 16 minutes. Against Tennessee, he blocked four shots and grabbed seven rebounds in 16 minutes.

White wasn’t on board with the Jackets in time to make their August trip to the Bahamas, and his playing time has been limited. His learning curve figures to flatten, and he’s trending up as a complement to more traditional post players.

“He gives us that versatile forward that we haven’t had in a couple years in terms of being able to switch [defensively],” Gregory said. “He’s going to make some jumps because he wasn’t with us this summer. We’ve hit him pretty fast. He’s got great character and a great motor.”

White is thankful for the chance to do new things in his home town.

“They’re getting me up to speed,” he said. “At my previous school, I never pressed. I was a [center]. It’s a different transition on the ball. They’re speeding me up . . . My goal is to be a high-energy guy.”

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