When Creighton's Ethan Wragge hammered Kendall Marshall to the floor last season in the NCAA Tournament round of 32, it turned out to be a basketball career-changing moment for Stilman White. The Wilmington native had largely been a spectator for most of the postseason, and had played a total of 20 minutes in five ACC and NCAA Tournament games to that point.
Marshall's broken wrist thrust White into the spotlight--and into the starting point guard role, where he compiled 13 assists and zero turnovers in a win over Ohio and the season-ending loss to Kansas. At the time, it seemed like a dramatic change, as White went from local afterthought to one of the primary national storylines of the weekend in the NCAA Tournament.
In less than a month, however, that will seem like merely a minor wrinkle in his life. On Nov. 28, White departs for a two-year Mormon mission in Ogden, Utah, whicih promises to be a truly transformational event.
"I expect it to change my life completely," White said recently. "I've never been put in this type of situation before, where I'll be waking up in the morning and dedicating my entire day to the needs and wants and problems of other people. I hope that I'm going to get a lot out of it, and be able to share what I believe with a lot of other people."
White had no input at all on the destination for his mission. It could have literally been anywhere in the world, so an assignment in Utah was a pleasant surprise. Since his future location became public knowledge, he's been contacted by several people in the area welcoming him to Utah, so despite knowing very few people in the area--he did go on a college visit to Utah State, but that's the extent of his Utah connections--he's already building a community.
While the goal of the mission is to aid and serve others, it's also a major growth opportunity for White. As Roy Williams (mostly) lovingly pointed out last year during the White frenzy of late March, "He is so wacko." That was a nice way of saying that the freshman occasionally had some adventures off the court. Moving completely on his own to Ogden, Utah, means there are no managers to double-check his ID and no coaches to track his cell phone.
"Hopefully, it matures me a lot more than I am now," White says. That's a virtual certainty, considering he'll be allowed just two phone calls per year--one on Christmas and one on Mother's Day. The frequent tweeter will have to sign off on Twitter, won't have a cell phone, and can only send weekly emails.
Everyone involved believes this will be a life-changing mission for White, or for any 20-year-old who leaves home for two years. Which brings up a legitimate question: how does he know that when he returns, he'll still want to be a Tar Heel, and still have the same interest in basketball?
White has talked with several athletes in a similar situation to him to get some perspective on his eventual re-entry into what is currently his "normal" life. One of the most influential people for him has been a BYU baseball pitcher named Marc Oslund, who did his Mormon mission in Raleigh. "I've talked to Marc about it," White said. "He's told me a lot about all the benefits and blessings he's received from putting a very promising career on hold to serve for two years. He said it was the best decision he ever could have made. I think it's going to help me a lot in basketball. It's an entirely positive experience, and it's only going to help me down the road."
White leaves for Utah on Nov. 28, and will participate in several days of missionary training before entering the mission field in Ogden.