Being a good college basketball player doesn’t mean you’re going to be a good professional basketball player.
But it sure can’t hurt.
Aaron White’s NBA future might be a bit of a question mark — many mock drafts have him going late in the second round — but there’s no doubting that decision-makers have to be impressed with what he did during his senior year at Iowa.
Coming off a junior year that saw his Hawkeyes stumble mightily down the stretch and make a rapid exit from the NCAA tournament, White entered this past season as the team’s leader, with head coach Fran McCaffery calling it “Aaron’s team” even before the season began. And White showed it, putting Iowa on his back throughout the season.
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White averaged better than 16 points and seven rebounds a game, scoring from everywhere on the floor and showing off a terrific ability to get to the free-throw line. Under his leadership, the Hawkeyes reversed the trend and finished the season strong, winning six straight and eight of 10 to close the regular season, then surprising many with a 31-point rout of Davidson in the Round of 64 of the NCAA tournament. And through it all, White was sensational. He averaged 22.5 points per game over the team’s last eight contests (including a Big Ten Tournament game and two NCAA tournament games), scoring 21 points or more in six of those. He grabbed double-digit rebounds four times over Iowa’s final 10 games. He earned First Team All-Big Ten honors.
White finished his college career with a bang, and he did it in a conference that he called the next best thing to playing in the NBA.
“I think it’s one of the best conferences,” White said at the NBA Draft Combine. “The competition level that we played against, the scouting reports and coaches that you go up against, obviously it’s not the NBA, but it might be the next best thing in terms of how to prep yourself for the next level. So I think a lot of stuff that I learned in my four years at Iowa will help me going forward.”
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There’s a lot to like about White’s game. As mentioned, he can score in a variety of ways and is great at getting to the basket and the charity stripe. The question becomes whether he can do that at the next level. Even in the Big Ten, a conference known for its bruising battles, opposing defenses are a lot smaller than in the NBA. It’s easier to get through the Illinois Fighting Illini — who White scorched for 29 points on Feb. 25 — than it is to get through the Chicago Bulls.
But White feels he can bring plenty to an NBA team, be it versatility, scoring ability or something purely intangible.
“Playing the 3 and the 4. Just being able to play hard, play with a good motor, bring energy and do all the little things to help a team win. That’s what I’m kind of prepping myself to do,” White said. “Whatever a team asks me, I’m going to try to do to the best of my ability. If a team selects me, I’ll represent that organization in a great manner.”
Regardless of where he ends up getting picked, White is enjoying the process. He raved about being at the NBA Draft Combine, an event he said he’s watched on TV since he was a little kid. He was stunned by some of the faces in the crowd watching him play.
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“I’ve been watching the Combine since I was a little kid,” White said. “Obviously I watched it really intently last year when (former teammate Roy Devyn Marble) was here, and I’ve always followed the coverage on NBA TV or ESPN or whoever’s covering it. This is a great honor to be here. You see Larry Bird sitting courtside, you see big-name guys sitting courtside. This whole process is a blessing, it’s something I’m very fortunate to be in a position in.”
One of those faces sitting courtside, though, was a very familiar one. McCaffery was at the Combine, too, and White said he’s been thrilled to have his now former coach be a big part of his NBA Draft process.
“He’s given me great confidence in myself not only in my four years at college but throughout this process just telling me to be myself and let my character show through and my work ethic show through,” White said. “I couldn’t ask for a better coach to play for, and I appreciate him coming out and supporting me.”
He might not hear his name early on draft night, and there might be questions to be answered about his game and how it translates to the next level — though NBA teams likely won’t be shying away from 6-foot-9 220-pounder. But one certain thing is that White will appreciate the opportunity immensely. And if his play in college showed anything, it’s that he’s willing to do whatever it takes to make something happen for his team.
“I’m just looking forward to not only these next two months before the draft, the next month and a half, but my career going forward,” White said. “This is my dream, to play basketball for a living, and I’m just so lucky and fortunate to be in this position. It’s been great so far, and the future looks good, as well.”