By Bill Koch
The Cincinnati Enquirer
The sign in the student section at Fifth Third Arena on Wednesday night during the Clemson game said it all. "Beware, he's coming. Number 21," it read.
If that weren't enough to make James White understand the expectations he faces as he makes his University of Cincinnati basketball debut Saturday night against Middle Tennessee State, maybe all the interview requests did.
Already this week he has been interviewed by The Washington Post, The Sporting News, USA Today, The New York Daily News, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and ESPN.com.
"It's weird," White said Thursday. "When I was playing, I never got pub like that."
White, a 6-foot-7 forward from Kensington, Md., who transferred to UC last December from Florida, was a McDonald's All-American as a senior at Hargrave Military Academy. He averaged 6.1 points and 2.9 rebounds in 20.5 minutes per game as a freshman at Florida.
After sitting out a year, practicing day after day with no immediate reward in sight, he's ready to go Saturday night. And UC fans appear just as eager to watch his high-flying dunks and see what his athleticism and quickness will bring to the Bearcats' already effective pressure defense.
"I'm just looking forward to being out there with the guys for the first time and playing in this atmosphere," White said.
If anyone knows how White feels as he counts down the hours until his first UC game, it's assistant coach Keith LeGree.
Like White, LeGree was a McDonald's All-American who transferred to UC amid great expectations. He arrived at UC from Louisville in 1993 as the point guard in waiting, the man who would pick up where Nick Van Exel left off.
He discovered rather quickly that sitting out a year can have a detrimental effect on even the most talented player. He scored 14 points with six assists in his first game against Minnesota, but it took him awhile to get back into the flow of the game.
"You're so fired up just being back and being in it," LeGree said, "but once that wears off, you hit a wall. James has to understand that it's a process. You have to keep getting better each game, each day. It's not going to happen all at one time. The game is too hard."
LeGree also hopes that UC's fans don't expect too much from White right away.
"He has to understand that everyone is waiting to see how good he is, what he can do and what he can't do," LeGree said. "He has to know that it's going to get serious now. I've told him that."
White says that sitting out a year and practicing every day has made him a better player and made him understand the importance coach Bob Huggins places on defense.
"Huggs allows you to be yourself," White said. "He allows you to play your game and bring your charisma to the game. As long as you do simple things like play defense. I see that's the big emphasis and I thought that was one of my strong suits coming in from Florida."
Already Thursday White said he could feel the difference in practice, knowing that he'll be playing soon. The expectations are different now, even from the coaches.
"I have to do everything right," he said.
White is making no promises, only that he'll play hard and do what he can to help his unbeaten teammates continue to win.
"I've been in that situation before when I was a freshman and had high expectations," White said. "I'm just going to let the game come to me."
STOKES UPDATE: When Leonard Stokes showed up at UC's practice Thursday and found out that his former teammates were in the locker room, he was content to wait for them out on the court.
"I ain't going in there," Stokes said. "I've gotten yelled at in there plenty of times."
Stokes, who completed his UC career last year after scoring 1,318 points in four years, said he expects to join the Asheville Altitude of the National Basketball Development League on Jan. 1.
Stokes said he played briefly in Greece, but quit because he wasn't getting paid and also worked out with the Fayetteville NBDL team before landing with Asheville.
"It's rough," he said. "After you leave here you're so used to everybody caring about you, but once you're out there, it's so much of a business."
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