Sunday, Syracuse Orange fans finally exhaled as Andrew White III made it official that he would be suiting up for SU in 2016-2017 as a grad transfer.
White comes to Syracuse by way of Nebraska, where he played for one season after transferring from Kansas, where he played for two seasons. It's been a long, strange trip for the Virginia native to find his way here.
White himself has been a bit of an enigma during the process. When he visited Syracuse his comments were polite and positive but didn't give away too much. The only time he seemed to speak up about his departure from Nebraska was in an interview with MLive during a visit to Michigan State. After that, he went radio silent, even while visiting Miami and VCU. As the beginning of classes approached and fans got nervous, he was nowhere to be seen or heard from.
In the end, he decided that Michigan State, Louisville, and Miami weren't a fit and it came down to Syracuse and VCU, at least according to reports. It made for a compelling choice because it was easy to interpret either as some kind of referendum on White himself.
VCU, it should be noted, is a great basketball program. Under Shaka Smart, they went to the 2011 Final Four and have been to six-consecutive NCAA Tournaments. They've won at least 25 games every year since 2009-2010 and have played for the A-10 Championship four years in a row (winning the conference tourney in 2015 and the regular season title in 2016).
White would have excelled there. The team lost a bunch of quality players to graduation and transfers and it's likely he would have been the star attraction. Not only that he would have been playing in his hometown, the prodigal son returning to lift the local team up when they needed him. He would have likely led the Rams in scoring, played well enough for All A-10 consideration, and perhaps led the team into another NCAA Tournament. It would have been great.
But none of that was the point of Andrew White's transfer. The point, instead, is to prove to the NBA that he's worth a draft pick and a spot in the league. He gave it a shot this year and it turned out the NBA wasn't ready for him yet. However, he did come away learning more about what he needs to do so, next time, the big league is interested.
The feedback for what to work on, White said, centered on decision-making and better production with the ball in his hand instead of just catching and shooting.
"A lot of that was based on my body of work last year at Nebraska," he said. "It was something I addressed with Coach Miles — to develop, of course, but to be put in more positions to look like a guy who is strong with the ball.
That's what White's decision to transfer was about. Rightly or wrongly, he felt that the situation at Nebraska wasn't going to help him reach his goal. We can talk about whether or not that should be his focus at a later time but the point right now is that while VCU would have provided him with a great college experience, he had to pick Syracuse if he was truly serious about the NBA.
When it comes to playing in the pros, your best bet often comes down to a few things.
- How did you look vs. other NBA-potential talent?
- How did you play alongside NBA-potential talent?
- What is your upside?
Leading the nation in scoring or putting up gaudy numbers in general don't amount to much when it's all said and done. More important than any statistics is how you look when you're going head-to-head with another elite player.
Coming to Syracuse, Andrew White gets the chance to check all those boxes. He'll be playing alongside Tyler Lydon, a likely 2017 pick, as well as other guys who are potential future NBA players. He'll be going up against great players from Wisconsin, UConn, Georgetown, Duke, North Carolina, and Louisville. He'll play high-pressure games in hostile ACC arenas against guys likely to be lottery picks. He will do almost all of this on national television and he will be playing for a coaching staff that has sent someone to the NBA first-round five years running, a streak matched only by Duke and Kentucky.
The knock on White seems to be that he's got an ego and/or is selfish. Well whether he meant to or not, he ended up in the right position for his future even if that's the case. Jim Boeheim has been dealing with big ego players for 40 years now (Derrick Coleman, Carmelo Anthony, Dion Waiters). Few coaches have worked with as many talented players as Boeheim and he always figures out how to mold them to fit the system in order to get what's needed. Sometimes that means letting them loose (as Jimmy is wont to do with shooters) and sometimes that means chewing them out any chance he gets. Boeheim will figure out what White needs and then provide it.
When he first decided to return to Nebraska instead of going pro, White realized that the easiest way for him to get better is to surround himself with better players.
"I need to get offense for other people and make the right plays. The more talent you have around you, the more opportunity you have to do it."
Well, he's surrounded by a collection of four-star and five-star talents and the deepest roster SU has had in years. All of that said, he's still likely to be the No. 1 scoring option. He could not have possibly picked a better season to play for Syracuse.
As for whether or not Andrew White succeeds at Syracuse and parlays that into an NBA career, that's entirely up to him. If he was looking for the best possible situation to help him do that, he has found it. Now comes the hard part.