Jatarie White stands 6-foot-4 and was ranked the No. 7 prospect in the country.
She played against National Player of the Year Breanna Stewart in AAU ball and also went head-to-head against current teammate A’ja Wilson during her prep days at Providence Day (N.C.) School She figured she had a good start on being able to handle whatever college players might throw her way.
In one of her first drills at South Carolina, White was ordered to box out senior Elem Ibiam, also 6-4 and a veteran who’s gone against some of the best players in the country. Ball went up, White moved her leg around Ibiam’s and raised her arms and Ibiam stepped right out of the trap, went up and got the ball first.
“She’s so strong,” White said with a shake of her head after a few more fruitless sessions of trying to keep Ibiam under control. “That was definitely my welcome-to-college moment. I never had to box-out in high school because I was taller than everybody. Coach (Dawn) Staley said, ‘It’s OK, you got that freshman in you. You just have to learn to get stronger, and you’ll learn as you go.’ ”
White’s been on campus two weeks, but she’s already learned the most valuable lesson – this isn’t high school anymore.
White is stepping into a Gamecock squad overflowing with talent, and even highly recruited freshmen might have to sit for a while.
“I haven’t set any individual goals,” White said. “I just set team goals, like working hard and getting to know my teammates and bonding and hopefully winning the national championship.”
White was the biggest piece of the recruiting class until her close pal Wilson, the No. 1 national recruit, also committed. That was fine with White – she never wanted the attention of being a big-shot recruit, and knowing that she could play with her friend in college was great.
White will have a chance to play right away, although it will be difficult to break into the starting rotation.
The Gamecocks return Ibiam and forward Aleighsa Welch in the middle, with SEC Freshman of the Year Alaina Coates backing up Ibiam. White, with the height and muscle to make an impact, could make Staley think of having a tall, hefty frontline in the game at all times, or she could be a backup for Ibiam and Coates should foul trouble arise.
“Wow, what a great get for our program,” Staley said when White signed. “She is incredibly skilled.”
White already is preparing for whatever her role will be. She’s getting used to the routine – 5 a.m. wake-up call, weight-lifting, class, drills, study hall. Even with one class this semester, it’s a grind. She’s pushing through, as her freshmen teammates are; it helps rooming with one of them (Wilson) and having two vets (junior Asia Dozier and sophomore Coates) in the four-person suite.
She has pressure to live up to her billing. That flows into the pressure on the team – Staley hasn’t shied away from preaching the goal and expectation (Final Four) into every workout.
White’s fine with all of it. It’s why she signed.
“It puts a lot of pressure on all of us,” she said. “They keep talking about how everybody’s going to start watching us now. We just have to take the pressure together as a group. I think we should be able to handle the pressure well, as long as our teammates got us. And I feel like they’ve done a really good job of leadership.”