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Aaron White focused on improvement this summer

[ 0 ] July 15, 2014 |

Four months later, Aaron White still isn’t sure what caused the Iowa men’s basketball team to unravel at the end of last season.

But he thinks he knows how to avoid a repeat.

Barring a late free fall, it appears Aaron White and Iowa are among five Big Ten teams on solid footing for the NCAA Tournament next month. (USA TODAY Sports)

Barring a late free fall, it appears Aaron White and Iowa are among five Big Ten teams on solid footing for the NCAA Tournament next month. (USA TODAY Sports)

“What I can take from last year and moving into this year, last year was the first time in my career and all of our careers that we were expected to do big things,” White said Tuesday during a teleconference. “Early in the year, you had guys saying we had the talent to go to the Final Four or we had the talent to make the Sweet 16.

“So that’s a lot of pressure on a team, especially a team that hasn’t been in the limelight up until that point. So I think myself and the rest of the guys really learned not to buy into anything. You can’t take anything for granted. You just have to get to work every day and prepare for the next game and when that game is over with, put that behind and you work on the next game.”

White held a teleconference with reporters to discuss what he described as a surreal summer in which the 6-foot-9 forward has attended skills camps affiliated with NBA stars LeBron James and Kevin Durant. White was among 30 collegiate players invited to the LeBron James Skills Academy, which was held Wednesday through Saturday in Las Vegas.

In addition to facing top-notch competition, White saw what it takes to compete at a high level. The Strongsville, Ohio, native learned as much about effort as he did execution while attending both camps.

“The biggest thing I took away from it is the intensity we have to play with,” White said. “Obviously, you have the top-30 guys in the country or thereabouts and you get them on one court, it’s going to be pretty intense. It’s going to be high-level competition. It’s going to be guys going at each other.”

White also was in Las Vegas when LeBron James announced that he was returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers after playing the previous four seasons with the Miami Heat. White grew up in northeast Ohio cheering for James. So as a fan, White was thrilled to see James return home.

“That’s one thing I’ve noticed being away from home for as long as I have, there is huge pride being from northeast Ohio and being from Cleveland,” White said. “So it’s a tremendous thing for him to come back.”

White has taken what he learned at both skills camps and shared it with his Hawkeye teammates, particularly 6-10 senior-to-be center Gabe Olaseni, who blossomed into a key player last season.

“I was just trying to tell, like Gabe especially, that we really have to ramp up the intensity, not that that he wasn’t bringing intensity,” White said. “But us two really have to, even if it’s chatting on the sideline or whatever it might be, you just have to do everything at a high level because that’s how the game is played.

“You can’t turn it on once the game starts. You have to do it in July. And even though it’s the summer, you have to get that engrained in you, and then it doesn’t become something that has to be challenged once the season gets going.”

Iowa climbed to as high as 10th in the rankings last season before losing seven of its last eight games. The Hawkeyes still made the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006, but just barely, in Fran McCaffery’s fourth season as coach.

“The game of basketball is funny in some ways,” White said. “There isn’t one thing you can pinpoint on why we lost games at the end of the year. People want to think it was this or that or so and so or whatever is going on. The ball just didn’t bounce our way and we didn’t come out on the (winning) side in those games.”

White is the first Hawkeye to record at least 1,300 points, 650 rebounds, 100 assists and 100 steals by his junior season. He made third-team all-Big Ten as a junior and sophomore and was a member of the Big Ten all-Freshmen team in 2012.

Among his many strengths is his ability to score in transition, many times with thunderous dunks, and his ability to rebound and run the floor. White also is versatile enough to play both forward positions. Shooting is not considered one of his strengths, especially from medium range and beyond. However, White is working hard mentally and physically to expand his range this summer.

“That’s half the battle when it comes to a jumper,” White said. “You have to be confident shooting it. And to be honest with myself, I wasn’t confident shooting the ball at the end of last year. And that’s why I didn’t shoot it.

“In order for me to perform how I need to perform and to help my team, I need to make open shots and take a lot of the opportunities for myself and for my team. So there is going to be no hesitancy with me shooting my jumper.”

White attempted only five shots during Iowa’s 78-65 loss to Tennessee in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, making just one. He took only two shots during Iowa’s 67-62 loss to Northwestern in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament, although he made both.

“I think I’ve proven that I’m a pretty good offensive player,” White said. “I’ve shot the ball pretty well since I’ve been here. But that element of making open shots hasn’t been there. But that’s something that needs to happen.”

Reach Pat Harty at 339-7370 or pharty@press-citizen.com.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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