By Brendan Stiles
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Sitting at a podium with two USA No. 13 jerseys (one white and one blue) hanging directly in front of him, Iowa junior forward Aaron White spoke publicly for the first time Monday afternoon about his recent experience playing in Russia at the World University Games earlier this month.
But he did more than just talk about what transpired on the court. White spoke candidly about every aspect of his past month — from the training and conditioning before even leaving Iowa City for his tryout to finally being able to return home for a brief while before going back to Europe next month with his Hawkeye teammates and coaches.
Before he embarked on the first leg of his journey in Colorado Springs, White mentioned having to adjust his training regimen and add in time for conditioning on top of the workouts Iowa had him doing at the start of the summer. He also mentioned how he wanted to improve on his outside shooting.
The latter he said he felt comfortable with but wanted to continue improving. The former is what he believes made a significant difference in him making the team.
“I feel the best I’ve felt in a while in the summer, basketball conditioning-wise,” White said. “I went into Colorado Springs and out of those 28 or so guys, I thought I was maybe one of the top guys physically in shape. That’s why I was able to run the floor so well, rebound the ball so well.
“That’s really, after talking to Coach [Andrew] Francis and Coach [Fran] McCaffery, that’s what they wanted me to do — be in top shape and show the coaches that you’re ready to go.”
Going through 2-a-day practices along with everyone else on hand for the tryouts (including Iowa senior guard Devyn Marble), White said by the second day there that his confidence began to skyrocket and it would probably not be a matter of if he made the team, but rather who he’d be playing alongside.
“When I first went out there, I was a little iffy of, ‘Where would I fit in? How much better were guys than I was?’ Obviously, you have those thoughts going through your mind,” White said. “Midway through the second day, I was kind of looking at what I was doing in the pick-up games versus the other guys and kind of looking at it like, ‘There’s no reason I shouldn’t make this team.’
“It seemed like forever that we were out in Colorado Springs, to be honest with you, and after that first cut to 16, I definitely thought I belonged here and that I should be on this 12-man roster. Eventually, it came out that way.”
Upon making the U.S. squad and arriving in Kazan, Russia, White said one of his major challenges was with adjusting to the international style of play. He described what he believed were some of the noticeable differences between that and the college game and later said he’d make those different nuances an emphasis to his Iowa teammates before departing for London in three weeks.
“It’s a lot more physical than you’d think, but it’s a weird physical,” White said. “They don’t call pushes and stuff under the basket on rebounds, but they call ticky-tack stuff up top. It’s basically like the NBA — you can’t body the defender; you have to touch him with your chest.
“The travel call was extremely difficult for a couple of us. I don’t know how to explain it … you have to put the ball down before you basically move, which is not really what you’re taught here. That’s the biggest one I’m going to stress to our teammates.”
While the trip didn’t end as successfully as White or anyone else associated with Team USA would’ve liked with a ninth-place finish at the World University Games, White said the confidence he gained outweighed anything he could improve on physically and that he believes having had the opportunity to play more games versus working out more on campus proved to be “the greater choice” for him.
“I didn’t really get to work on my game, I didn’t really add a new move, I didn’t do any of that. I didn’t get stronger,” White said. “But I learned more about the game. I learned more about myself. I learned more about leadership. So I think that’s definitely the bigger thing.