North Carolina will welcome in one of the nation's top recruiting classes this fall, a trio of players who will help make up for the Tar Heels' recent departures while also bolstering the overall depth and talent on the roster for the 2014-15 season.
But it's Carolina's most recent addition—more like a re-addition—that's being met with almost as much praise and excitement as that three-man class of blue-chip prospects.
UNC announced on May 20 that Stilman White was returning to the team this fall after spending most of the last two years on a Mormon mission. The 6-foot point guard, who played sparingly in 2011-12, will be a sophomore and have three years of eligibility remaining.
"We're glad to have Stilman back in school and with our team," UNC coach Roy Williams said via a news release issued by the school. "He has not played much basketball the last two years and is coming off an ankle injury so he has some work to do to catch up. But he will give us additional experience and depth in the backcourt.
Normally, a player with only 29 career minutes of college action on his resume wouldn't bring about much fanfare, but then you must remember the legend of Stilman White. Though his story was a short one, lasting all of just two games over a three-day span, what White did for Carolina in an emergency role was the kind of stuff that gets pitched in Hollywood movie studio offices every year.
Carolina had just made it through the first weekend of the 2012 NCAA tournament, downing No. 8 seed Creighton 87-73 in Greensboro, N.C. to advance to the Sweet 16. But the victory was a costly one, because stellar point guard Kendall Marshall had broken a bone in his right wrist and would be out for the rest of the tourney, severely impacting the Heels' chances to reach the Final Four despite being a No. 1 seed.
Marshall, who would go on to be a lottery pick in 2012 NBA draft, was averaging 9.8 assists per game before the injury. He was such a fixture in Carolina's lineup that Roy Williams hadn't picked up another point guard for that season, assuming Marshall would be able to do it all. And he had, until that broken bone, and all of a sudden the Heels were without their primary ball-handler.
White, an afterthought recruit from Wilmington, N.C., who was in the same class as 5-star prospects P.J. Hairston and James Michael McAdoo, was not a part of Carolina's regular plans. Other than garbage time and the occasional mid-game spelling of Marshall, he rarely saw the court, logging 136 minutes through the first 36 games of the season.
He then went on to play 32 minutes in UNC's overtime win over Ohio in the Sweet 16, then another 28 minutes in the Elite Eight loss to Kansas. White managed just six points in those two starts, but that's not where his impact was most felt. Instead, it was further over on the combined stat line:
13 assists, zero turnovers.
White was presented with the seemingly impossible task of replacing a superstar, yet the unheralded nobody fared better than anyone could have ever imagined. After dishing out six assists against Ohio, White became an instant folk hero, joining what has to be a very short list of true-freshman, deep-bench reserves to be invited to the podium for pregame interviews during the NCAA tournament.
Even with another seven assists and no giveaways against Kansas, Carolina was outmatched by a Jayhawks team that had all five starters score double figures en route to a 13-point victory. And while White's effort was amazing, it also served as a cautionary tale for Williams and his recruiting practices, according to Andrew Carter of the Raleigh News & Observer.
"After White was forced into a starting role, Williams said he’d never again be caught with suspect point guard depth," Carter wrote.
Carolina's roster will include five point guards for the 2014-15 season, including White, and in a way White is responsible for that overabundance of floor generals. Joel Berry, the 4-star point guard coming in with the 2014 recruiting class, was first offered a scholarship by the Heels less than five months after White's two-game, three-day run. This was despite Marcus Paige already on his way in for 2012-13, and Nate Britt committed for the 2013-14 season.
With four players ahead of him on the depth chart, as well as the learning curve that will come with having been away from the college game for two years, it's very likely White will play less as a sophomore than he did in that freshman season. But when he does get on the court, especially at home, there's little doubt that the fans in the Dean E. Smith Center will shower him with applause.
Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.
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