LOUISVILLE, Ky. — It wasn’t fear-of-flying that kept Iowa State’s Royce White from joining Kentucky’s men’s basketball team in the summer of 2010.
Kentucky Coach John Calipari visited White in Minneapolis. White had decided to leave the University of Minnesota’s program, and Calipari offered him the chance to be a Wildcat.
“The mother of my firstborn son, we had just found out that she was going to have a son right around February, January,” White said here Friday.
“And as you know, pregnancy gets really tough in those main months right there, right where I was going to be starting the season off.
“It was important for my mother to be there and her mother to be around. I’ve got two sets of grandparents. They were all very supportive.”
Shortly after that, White signed with the program of then-new Iowa State Coach Fred Hoiberg. Tonight, White will try to lead the Cyclones to an NCAA Tournament upset of top-ranked Kentucky in the KFC Yum! Center.
Calipari had wanted White to fly to Lexington to enroll for summer the school the following day. White, who has generalized anxiety disorder, had a panic attack and didn’t make the trip.
“I flew up, and I met with he and his mother,” Calipari said. “It was done, and I was happy. I said ‘You know what, this is going to be something good.’ And then he couldn’t get on the plane.
“And I’m like ‘If you don’t come down here now, if you can’t show up in the summer, you’re not going to be able to do this here,’ and he just couldn’t do it.
“I was OK with it. ... What Iowa State and the state of Iowa have done for that young man, he’s on that path that I would want him on if he played for me.”
White has expressed nothing but admiration for Calipari, saying “It was kind of amazing for me even to be there meeting him in person.
“It just didn’t work out the way we planned it, and Iowa State was a better fit.”
Controversy dogged White in his freshman year at Minnesota. He pleaded guilty to theft and disorderly conduct after he was accused of shoplifting and pushing a Mall of America security guard. But his two years in Ames have been incident-free. He lives there with the mother of his 13-month-old son, Royce Alexander White II.
“I knew he had some issues, but it wasn’t anything of the heart,” said Calipari. “I’ve done this a long time, and if a young man has a good heart, I can deal with everything else.“I’m happy he’s playing well, doing well.”