IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa's Aaron White wasn't all that thrilled to be a reserve for Team USA at the World University Games in Russia.
He won't have to worry about coming off the bench for the Hawkeyes: Iowa will likely use White as much as it can next season in hopes of ending its NCAA tournament drought.
White recently returned from the international tournament, his first. He was the first Iowa player in eight years to make the World University Games team, which also included Louisville's Luke Hancock, All-American Doug McDermott of Creighton and Big Ten rival Adreian Payne of Michigan State. White averaged 6.1 points and 3.6 rebounds in eight games off the bench, shooting 55 percent from the floor with nearly a block a game.
Team USA finished a disappointing ninth after dropping games to Australia and Canada, but White believes the experience was more than worth it.
"Saying that you made Team USA and that you went over there is something that you put on your resume. It bodes well for you," said White, who will be a junior next season. "I think that gives you a great deal of confidence, and I'm hoping that after my junior year guys across the country are saying that I'm one of the top players in college basketball. That's the goal, and this was just one step toward it."
White's inclusion on a national team was also validation of his improvement. After all, few major programs outside of Iowa showed much interest in White back when was a star at Strongsville High in Ohio.
As a freshman, White forced his way into the starting lineup by the time Big Ten play started in 2011-12. He finished the year as Iowa's leading rebounder and was third in scoring at 11.1 points per game. Last season, White teamed with Devyn Marble for a 1-2 punch that nearly led Iowa to the NCAA tournament for the first time in seven years.
White again led the Hawkeyes in rebounds and was sixth in school history with 488 points as a sophomore, earning third-team All-Big Ten honors in a year when the league was as good as it has ever been. Though White was one of the last guys invited to try out for the U.S., he survived the 26-man camp to earn one of the 12 spots on the team.
Marble was one of 14 players who didn't make the cut.
"After about midway through the second day, I was kind of looking at what I was doing in the pickup games vs. the other guys. And I was looking at it, and there was no reason why I shouldn't make the team," White said.
After a few days of rest, White's focus will shift back to the most anticipated Iowa season in nearly a decade.
The additions of freshman guard Peter Jok and Jarrod Uthoff, a sophomore forward who transferred from Wisconsin after a contentious process with coach Bo Ryan, will leave coach Fran McCaffery with more options than he's ever had.
But playing White less likely won't be one of them. Instead, the Hawkeyes will look to find ways to play White and Uthoff together.
White doesn't park himself in the post like many traditional power forwards, and his perimeter shot has often been spotty. Where White excels is in driving to the basket and in converting loose balls into baskets, often in spectacular fashion.
Many think of 6-foot-8, 200-pound Uthoff as a "stretch 4," a power forward that can stretch defenses because of his ability to consistently knock down jump shots. That could clear lanes for White to attack the rim and help make a somewhat unorthodox forward pairing a successful one.
"I'm just as interested as everyone else is to see the different types of lineups that coach McCaffery will use," White said. "I don't think that there's any question that we can play together."
Uthoff is spending part of his offseason overseas as well, spending this week with an all-star team playing in a three-game tournament in Estonia. He, like White found in Russia, will sacrifice time in the weight room and in individual skill development for a unique playing experience.
White said the time away from Iowa City helped him develop parts of his game that will be more crucial than ever as he becomes an upperclassman for the first time.
"I didn't get bigger or stronger. But I learned more about the game. I learned more about myself. I learned more about leadership," White said.