Dedication and love of the game led one woman to a full scholarship and record-setting distinction as a college basketball player.
Katie White traces her love of basketball back to elementary school, when she watched the Chicago Bulls accomplish multiple championship runs.
“I was a huge Michael Jordan fan,” says White, who is the manager of finance at Chicago Health System.
She laughs when she recalls being young enough to assume that her love of watching the game meant she also must be good at basketball. “I was told, ‘No, you have to play,’” White says. “And I thought ‘I can do that.’”
The motivation to master a game she already loved led her to begin playing on teams, and by the end of middle school to start playing basketball as a year-round sport.
The 6’2” White started out as a post player, but her high coordination also allowed her to play point guard at times, as well. As a left-handed player, she would throw off other players.
The combination of natural and learned skills allowed her to be a starting player throughout high school and college, where she earned a full scholarship for basketball.
“The ability to come out of college with no debt also was a good motivator,” White says.
Her basketball skills also enabled her to make a big impact at her alma mater, Coastal Carolina University, Conway, S.C., where her records for single game, season, and career blocked shots still stand.
White purposely selected a smaller Division I college because there she was able make an impact on the court right away. Major Division I colleges often adopt the practice of redshirting—keeping players out of competition for a few years so they can develop their skills.
“That was where my passion was for the game—on the court,” White says about her desire to start playing right away.
Among the keys to thriving in the stressful world of collegiate basketball was White’s view of the sport as a full-time job outside academics. That mindset was key to maintaining discipline and focus throughout one of longest seasons in collegiate sports—ranging from November to April, depending on post-season activity. And then there is extensive training during the preseason and postseason, as well.
“So there’s really no break or downtime,” White says. “It’s a 40-hour a week commitment just for the athletic side—plus managing a full class load.”
To help athletes manage their time, many colleges—including Coastal Carolina—offer a range of resources, including tutors and study hall requirements for freshmen to teach that balance early in their careers.
White’s balance and discipline paid off with a 4.0 grade point average—unusual for athletes—and an accounting degree. But it wasn’t all work and no play. White loved the team aspect of college sports.
“You had friends right away when you got on campus, everyone motivates each other, and it’s a good way to stay in shape,” White says.
Among her most memorable games were those involving the University of North Carolina Tar Heels, which is consistently among the top five teams nationally in women’s basketball.
“It was always our biggest game in the year,” White says. “Competing with those girls—probably 80 percent of them go on to compete in the WNBA—was big.”
Recently, White was surprised while watching a WNBA Chicago Sky game. “I thought ‘Wow, these are the girls I used to play against,’” White says. “It was kind of cool to have played against them and then watch them compete on a professional level.”
After taking a couple years off from basketball—“For a couple years I didn’t want to see a round orange object,” she says—White started playing with former travel ball teammates. She joined a summer league at a community college comprising former college players and local college and high school players.
“It’s amazing how much basketball is like riding a bike,” White says. “It comes back very quickly, although the endurance aspect does not come back quickly.”
Nowadays White offers player feedback to members of teams coached by her former teammates.
“I’m starting to do that more and more because you miss that aspect of it,” White says. “When you can find the time, it is nice to be able to help the next generation, whether it is figuring out the college experience or where to go when you have offers. I didn’t have a lot of that, and looking back, that advice can be helpful for high school athletes.”