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IOWA CITY - Few Big Ten programs showed interest in Aaron White before Iowa offered him a scholarship nearly three years ago. But some of the coaches that passed on the 6-foot-8 junior forward now rank among his biggest fans.
There was the long handshake and words of appreciation from Wisconsin Coach Bo Ryan after last year's 70-66 Iowa win. Purdue men's basketball coach Matt Painter saw enough of White to nominate him for the Team USA tryouts. Of course Michigan Coach John Beilein is one of the assistants who selected White for the 12-member World University Games roster.
“We weren't even sure he was going to be nominated,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery told The Gazette. “You have to get nominated to get considered to be brought for tryouts.
“Matt Painter's the one that really helped him. Matt Painter was on the committee, and he's the one that really spoke up. There might have been others. But I know that Matt said, ‘Hey this guy. ...'
It helps that White scored a combined 30 points in a split with the Boilermakers last season. White ended the year as Iowa's leading rebounder (6.2), second in scoring (12.8) and was a third-team all-Big Ten selection.
To prepare for the Team USA tryout, White returned to campus 10 days earlier than originally planned. He concentrated on conditioning, and that worked to his advantage in the Colorado Springs altitude under Davidson and Team USA Coach Bob McKillop.
“I'm a step ahead at this point than I had been the past two of years,” White said before tryouts.
“I think he anticipated what was going to be required,” McCaffery said. “Two-a-day practices. (USA Coach) Bob McKillop runs. His teams run. So you've got to be in unbelievable shape, and you've got to be smart. His teams were phenomenally cerebral. They carve you up. So I think it was a perfect situation for him. He's in great shape, and he'll learn more than one position, and he'll effectively implement the things that Coach McKillop needs him to do.”
In two games at Kazan, Russia, White has combined for 20 points and seven rebounds. He was potent in USA's win against the United Arab Emirates, scoring 18 points and grabbing four rebounds. He added two points and three rebounds against the Czech Republic on Monday.
“He seems to have the ability to make big plays late, too,” McCaffery said. “That's a special gift that he has. There's nothing that we can do to orchestrate that happening. Some guys just have to make plays when your team needs you to make plays. That's what he does.”
USA plays Sweden on Wednesday and Australia on Thursday. ESPNU will televise both games on delay at 6 p.m.
Iowa's non-conference schedule is one game from being finalized. McCaffery said the team won't travel beyond a road game to Iowa State, a neutral site game against Drake at Des Moines' Wells Fargo Arena and the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas.
Upgrading Iowa's opponents' (ratings performance index) was a factor in scheduling this year. Iowa played five teams with an RPI lower than 300 last year, and its non-conference RPI average was 217. The Hawkeyes were one of the final six teams left out of the NCAA tournament, and RPI was the key reason.
“I think they're all substantially higher,” McCaffery said. “The thing about it is you can't always control it. A team, maybe they were 240 last year and all the sudden they're 342. Those are the ones that really hurt you. I think you'll see it will be a much more challenging schedule with those teams as well when it's released.
In April, Iowa shifted from the Great Alaska Shootout for Battle 4 Atlantis, and the tournament offers a scheduling upgrade. Kansas headlines the field, and is joined by NCAA tournament qualifier Villanova. Other Atlantis teams include Xavier, UTEP, Tennessee, Wake Forest and USC. The only team in the tournament with an RPI below 109 was Wake Forest (13-18). The average RPI for the tournament is 79. The Alaska field's average RPI is 135.
“It's a great RPI tournament, obviously,” McCaffery said of the Bahamas trip.
Iowa had sought to play a game or an exhibition in Sioux City, but it was unable to make the logistics work, McCaffery said. Three Iowa players - Zach McCabe, Mike Gesell, Adam Woodbury - all hail from the Sioux City area, as does assistant coach Kirk Speraw.
McCaffery has yet to fill the director of operations position vacated by Jerry Strom's retirement. McCaffery said he's likely to make an official announcement in the next week.
The Hawkeyes will face Kansas State in a closed-door scrimmage this fall. The location has not been set. Media and spectators are not allowed to view it. Last year, Iowa faced Creighton in Iowa City and will return to Omaha in 2014 for another closed scrimmage.
Iowa has been mentioned for a possible Sunday afternoon home Big Ten game on CBS, but McCaffery said nothing is yet final.