By Brian Paglia
As he signed his name, James White felt lighter.
"I feel all the pressure lifted off," White said. "I've been waiting for this since I first picked up a basketball. It's a big relief."
The Jonesboro senior signed a letter of intent to play college basketball at Arkansas-Little Rock, a Division I program in the Sun Belt Conference, on Wednesday in the Cardinals' gymnasium in front of a group of about 100 friends and family.
White saw the significance of the day not only for his long-term future, but for his senior season. As a junior, White's and Jonesboro's seasons took eerily similar paths -- struggles early on, steady improvement and then an abrupt end.
The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 11 points, seven rebounds and four blocks, but his season was cut short after suffering a leg injury. Jonesboro transformed from its early-season struggles into a playoff-caliber team, only to lose in the first round of the region tournament.
So motivation has not been hard to find this summer for White.
"Feels like everything is accomplished, but I still have one more step," White said. "A region championship with my team. I want to go out with a bang as a senior."
After a summer filled with 60 games with Jonesboro, more games with White's AAU team and summer courses to be better prepared for college academics, Cardinals coach Dan Maehlman said White could be poised for a breakout year.
"Every part of his life for him to get ready at the next level has turned around 180 degrees," Maehlman said. "His intensity that he hits everything with now -- not just the athletics and basketball, but academics, the way he treats people, everything. He's just a class act.
"People are going to see it on the court this year. Last year he struggled a little bit. He was injured from time to time, wasn't in the best shape. This year he's in the best shape of maybe anybody on the team right now. We're really looking forward to it."
White chose Arkansas-Little Rock over offers from Western Kentucky, Wichita State, Georgia Southern and Tennessee-Martin.
"They treated me like family," White said. "I fit right in when I first got there. They showed me love. They showed my family love. It was just the right fit for me and my family."
White fits in significantly to how successful Jonesboro will be this season. Maehlman said White will be one of four seniors expected to help a young team compete in a wide-open Region 4-AAAA.
"He's got to be a leader on top of being one of the key players on the team," Maehlman said. "That's a lot on his shoulders, but I think he can handle it."