Jonesboro native James White is averaging 10.8 points and 6.1 rebounds for Arkansas-Little Rock, which plays at Georgia State on Saturday. (Special Photo: Mark Wagner)
JONESBORO — Like most high school players, James White caught the eye of Arkansas-Little Rock coach Steve Shields’ attention during an AAU tournament.
Shields was more impressed with what he saw from the then-Jonesboro High standout on the bench than on the floor.
After coming out of the game during the national tournament in Florida between his junior and senior year of high school, White went to the bench were he was actively cheering on his teammates.
That image has stuck with Shields.
“He had so much energy,” Shields said Wednesday via cellphone. “He weighed only about 177 points, but you could tell he would be one of those guys that would mature and add the weight.”
Fast-forward to this season, and Shields has been right.
As the Trojans prepare to meet Georgia State in a key Sun Belt Conference game, White has matured into a big contributor for the program. He has started all 17 games this season, and is third on the team in scoring at 10.8 points per game. The 6-foot-8 White has bulked up to 216 pounds and averaging 6.1 rebounds a game, which is second on the team.
White was redshirted his freshman year after a knee injury, which allowed him time to add bulk and get a better grasp of the college game. He said that time in the weight room and on the bench has been beneficial.
“Basically, my freshman year helped me understand the Div. I game,” White said. He played in two games as a freshman before the injury.
“Sitting on the bench, I got to see the spend of the game,” White said. “It give me a chance to learn the angles to play defense. I really learned a lot about the mental part of the game.”
When he got the opportunity to play last season, White played in 32 games with nine starts as a redshirt freshman, where he averaged 7.2 points and 3.6 rebounds per game. He was third on the team with 30 blocked shots.
While he would have loved to have played as a freshman, White said sitting was the best option.
“It was a blessing to redshirt that first season,” he said. “Going from high school, the size just wasn’t there for me to play on the college level. I had to let my body mature so I could help my team when my turn came.”
So, White dedicated himself to the weight room.
“That was a big commitment on his part,” Shields said. “James bought into what we were expecting him to do. He is a big part of our team. It has been a real pleasure to coach him. He is definitely playing with a lot of confidence, and that is because of the work he did in the weight room. The biggest thing is that he has really matured.”
The Trojans, who are 9-8 overall and 4-1 in the conference, will face a hot Georgia State team that has won eight straight. Georgia State is coming off a 73-72 win over Arkansas State at home to take over sole possession of first place in the conference.
Georgia State sophomore sensation R.J. Hunter scored 23 points, including the game-winning jumper in the final seconds at the GSU Sports Arena.
Likewise, UALR is coming off an 87-83 overtime road win against Western Kentucky. In that game, White had 14 points and 10 rebounds in 36 minutes at E.A. Diddle Arena. It was the second time this season that White has had a double-double in a game.
“All games that we win are the best games,” White said. “I just want to do what it takes to help us win. I want this team to win. I really embrace my role on this team.”
This will mark the first game in Atlanta for White since helping Jonesboro to a Class AAAA semifinals appearance against powerhouse Miller Grove at The Arena at Gwinnett Center in Duluth.
“It is exciting to be back in Atlanta among family and friends,” White said. “It is a pretty big deal. I know we will have a tough game against Georgia State. I’m looking forward to being back.”