Chatrice White set to revive Illini
CHICAGO -- As Chicago's United Center prepared to host the McDonald's All American Games on Wednesday night, a much smaller venue some 550 miles west was just as busy planning for high school basketball's ultimate party.
For four years, the gymnasium at Shelby-Rising City High School (Neb.) has been home to Chatrice White, the No. 27 prospect in the espnW HoopGurlz Top 100 for the 2014 class. It has provided real estate for her prodigious scoring ability, created a stage for her blue-collar work ethic, and recorded innumerable memories for a town of only 700 or so residents. On Wednesday night, it was set to morph into a gigantic living room with an oversized television so the town could collectively bid adieu to White's historic high school career.
"I hope I can score at least six to eight points, get some big rebounds and block a few shots," said White, the first girl from the state of Nebraska to don a McDonald's All American jersey, before the game.
She certainly made an impact on the boards, grabbing nine rebounds, second only to teammate and MVP Brianna Turner's 10, in the West's 80-78 victory. White also finished with six points, three blocks and a steal.
In White's first high school game, the 6-foot-3 center broke the school record with a 33-point effort against Clarkson (Neb.). By the end of her final home game at Shelby-Rising City, she had reached 2,000 career points, just the ninth girl in state history to achieve that milestone.
But if you ask White, her engine is not fueled by the points or the rebounds or the blocks, all of which were enough to garner attention from the nation's elite college programs. It's the feeling that is evoked when she is called upon to build something, to leave a school or a program or a community better than when she found it.
"The Shelby girls' basketball team had been awful for so long, and when my teammates and I made it better and saw the impact it could have on the community, I realized that was an environment I really enjoyed being a part of," said White, who complements her local basketball stardom with an A average in the classroom and hours of community service at the Shelby Senior Center.
Such a sentiment was reflected in her college decision, as White turned down historically more successful programs -- including the Nebraska Cornhuskers -- and decided to commit to Illinois, which went 9-21 overall this season and was last in the Big Ten (2-14).
At the helm of the Illini rebuilding effort is coach Matt Bollant, who just finished his second season and who started recruiting White while he was in the midst of fortifying Wisconsin-Green Bay, a Horizon League team that was ranked as high as ninth in the country during his five-year tenure.
"I saw what [Coach Bollant's staff] did with Green Bay and how they built that program, so I figure they can turn this Illinois program around as well," said White, who admitted she was not considering Green Bay, but locked in on the coaching staff once they moved to a BCS school.
White, who along with Ohio State-bound Kelsey Mitchell was one of two Big Ten recruits at the McDonald's game, represents a sturdy building block, one who can immediately solidify the middle in a conference that demands size and toughness inside.
"I want to go there and make an impact right away," White said. "I think the drive to prove people wrong will carry over from high school. I loved it when people would look at my AAU team and be like, 'Oh, look at these ... girls from Nebraska,' and then we'd go beat them. It felt really good."
Wednesday night in Chicago, White began a new adventure in a new state in a different arena -- a much bigger one. In it, she will try to lay the foundation for what she hopes will be just as much of a feel-good story in Illinois as she has in Nebraska.
Notes: A'ja Wilson, the No. 1 prospect in the nation and the lone undeclared player in the game, scored 10 points and grabbed nine rebounds for the East. ... Florida State recruit Shakayla Thomas led all scorers with 19 points for the East. ... The West's Jordin Canada, who is headed to UCLA, set a McDonald's girls' record with seven assists. She also had 10 points and six rebounds.