From earning scholarship offers from Utah St. and BYU to eventually suiting up in Carolina blue. From Hoggard High to playing in front of Barack and Michelle on an aircraft carrier. From an unrated prospect to starting in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight. Stuff like this just doesn’t happen to people.
“I had the best year of my life,” White said. “Sometimes it just amazes me all the neat experiences I had and the neat things I got to do the last year.”
But just as quickly as White went from anonymous to primetime, he went back. The Wilmington native traded in his Nike shorts and jersey for slacks and a button up as he left for Utah to start his Mormon mission last week.
White’s mother and sister made the trip with him and helped him get settled before he checked into the Missionary Training Center on Wednesday. From there, he’ll prepare for his mission in Ogden, Utah in the coming weeks.
After training, White will begin his mission full-time. He’ll wake up at 6:30 a.m. six days a week and travel through Northern Utah, Southern Idaho and a small piece of Western Wyoming, spreading the gospel of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
During his two-year mission, White won’t be able to read the newspaper, watch TV, use his phone, check the internet, tweet or talk freely with his family. He can read and write letters. He can exercise in the morning. He’s allowed a phone call with his parents twice a year – on Mother’s Day and Christmas.
While the prospect of abandoning all the comforts of college life would terrify most young people, White has a different outlook.
“I’m a little bit sad to leave all my family and not be in school or in Chapel Hill for the next couple years but I’m also really excited,” White said. “It’s a little bit bittersweet but I’m actually more excited to head out there and get the experience.”
White realizes many people don’t understand why he’s so willing to temporarily give up such a great situation – in fact, they’ve told him as much -- but to White, the answer is in the question.
“They say ‘Why would you put off a promising (career)? You’re living the dream playing at North Carolina,’’” White said. “And I just think, the church has brought a lot of happiness into my life and a lot of happiness to my family. God has really blessed me with a lot. Being able to play at a school like North Carolina, I think it’s a small price to pay to take two years.
“Hopefully there’s some other family out there that I can share my church with and bring a lot of happiness to their life, too.”
Both of White’s parents went on missions. His mother Erin traveled to San Juan, Puerto Rico and his dad, Shannon, to San Bernadino, California. As a result, Stilman grew up wanting to go on a mission himself.
That doesn’t mean that leaving his team was easy, however. He said he’ll miss spending time with his teammates and is disappointed he won’t be able to keep up with their progress.
So far, watching games early this season has been especially tough, White said.
“It’s definitely weird to see them on TV,” White said. “I get a little depressed watching them. You want to be out there. Who wouldn’t want to be in Hawaii playing in the Maui Invitational? But I also get really excited watching them. I love watching them on TV.”
Oddly, White said his two starts in the NCAA Tournament don’t rank in the top tier of favorite memories from last year because in the end, the Heels lost. Instead, he’ll most remember spending time with his teammates after big wins.
“It’s every kid’s dream to start and play in the Sweet 16 and the Elite 8 in the NCAA Tournament. To play huge games and play against other blue bloods like Kansas,” White said. “I could’ve played better. I had a lot of shots in those games that I think I’d hit in my sleep and they just didn’t drop. But I played as hard as I could and I think I did all right.”
Stilman added that Carolina fans’ reaction to him helped with any disappointment.
“I got a lot of support after the games. They saw how hard I played and how badly I wanted to win,” White said. “That’s something great about playing at North Carolina. We just have the best fan base.”
Stilman’s dad, Shannon, said this competitive nature is something some people don’t understand about last year’s run. While most fans look at Stilman’s performance as a moral vicotry, he didn’t look at it this way.
“I think a lot of people said ‘we got everything we could out of Stilman,’” Shannon said. “I think Stilman played well, but I think there’s still a lot more he can do on a basketball court that he’s yet to show.”
Shannon said he wasn’t always so confident Stilman could compete at Carolina. He remembers Stilman’s first scrimmage with the team and seeing 6-foot-8 Harrison Barnes go up for a monster dunk while his 6-foot son warmed up on the sidelines. He quietly wondered if coming to Carolina was a mistake.
But that feeling didn’t last long, thanks in large part to the support he got from the staff.
“Coach Williams and the staff there did an incredible job getting him ready to play in that game,” Shannon said. “It started from the second he committed to play at North Carolina. They did an incredible job in the nine-month period that led up to that, getting him ready for that moment. I couldn’t have been more impressed with what they did with Stilman.”
White said he isn’t worried about his game slipping off much during his mission. He won’t be able to play basketball much – if at all – but he can do basic workouts. White said UNC strength and conditioning coach Jonas Sahratian gave him a workout with pushups, situps and other exercises he could do without equipment.
“You see all those guys at BYU and almost all of them go on missions,” White said. “When they first come back it takes them a couple months to get back in shape and get the rust off their game but they all come back and end up being better than they ever were before.”
And you can forget about any chance of White coming back early or not coming back at all. He ensured that the trip will last the full two years and when he returns in the fall of 2014, it’ll be to UNC. Any rumors to the contrary are false, he said.
“I intend on coming back to Chapel Hill,” White said. “I love going to school there. I love playing basketball there. So that’s definitely where I want to be.”