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IOWA CITY — Aaron White left northeast Ohio three years ago on a westbound journey to Iowa City. But the incoming Hawkeye senior refused to discard his fan loyalties along the banks of Lake Erie.
White, a 6-foot-9 senior forward, is never shy about touting the Cleveland-area pro sports teams. His tweets during the NFL draft ranged from aggravation to elation until his Browns selected quarterback Johnny Manziel. White showed his support by wearing an orange Browns’ T-shirt sporting “Johnny Football” to a Prime Time League game this summer.
But White plays basketball, and last Friday’s news that LeBron James would sign with the Cleveland Cavaliers touched White beyond words. James, who hails from Akron, Ohio, wrote an essay in Sports Illustrated last week professing his love for northeast Ohio, which guided him back to the Rust Belt. The story moved White, who was raised in nearby Strongsville, Ohio.
“In terms of what it means to the city, it’s unbelievable,” White said Tuesday. “Cleveland fans are some of the most passionate fans in the country about sports and the way he came back with that letter, talking about how it’s more than basketball, he feels that northeast Ohio is his home ... it’s huge. He did it in a tremendous way.
“That’s one thing I’ve realized being away from home as long as I have is that there’s a huge pride being from northeast Ohio and being from Cleveland.
“Cleveland sports fans are a lot like Iowa sports fans. They run with the hope that whether it’s the media, or a new recruit or anything. Their love is very similar.”
White had his own brushes with James last week at the LeBron James Skills Academy in Las Vegas. White was one of 30 college players (and 80 high school athletes) invited to the camp, which was crawling with NBA executives. After a banquet the players in attendance were allowed to ask James a question provided it didn’t involve his future destination (the camp was held before James’ announcement). The question-and-answer session took longer than expected so White didn’t ask his planned question about James’ post-career plans.
The James Academy was White’s second major camp invitation this summer. He also participated in the Kevin Durant Skills Academy, which selected the nation’s top 20 wing players. It was an unusual change in plans for White, who planned to stay in Iowa City this summer. Last year he traveled to Russia for Team USA in the World University Games and later competed with Iowa in six-game tour of England and France. The travel demands wore him down by March. But there was no way White could turn down those prestigious invitations.
Most of the workouts involved some skill development and competition against other elite college players. It involved games of varying numbers (one-on-one, five-on-five) and he worked on his defense.
“It’s been a great summer,” White said. “It’s been a little bit different because I told most of you guys that I wanted to stay at school, take some classes and work on my game, and I think I’ve gotten to have my chance to do that. These opportunities have taken only 10 days out of my summer, and it hasn’t killed me traveling, like going overseas. It’s been a great experience, it’s given me confidence, and I didn’t go there and just play a game, I got to work on my game a little bit.”
White is a two-time, third-team all-Big Ten selection. He led the Hawkeyes in rebounding for the third straight season and was the nation’s only player to shoot better than 55 percent from the field and 80 percent from the free-throw line. He was the only Big Ten player to average 13 points and seven rebounds in conference play and led the league in field-goal percentage. He ranks 18th in Iowa scoring with 1,301 career points and needs 479 points to reach second place.
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