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Legend not done learning

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The state that had produced any number of boys basketball players known by first name alone struck gender-equity gold in the early 1990s.

West Lebanon, a map speck of some 700 residents hugging the Indiana-Illinois line 35 miles southwest of Lafayette, was the place to be. More specifically, the Seeger High School gymnasium, home to one Stephanie White.

Or just Stephanie, if you will.

The legend White molded through a combination of natural talent and perseverance resulted in her being named the 1995 Indiana Miss Basketball and later a national champion at Purdue University.

Those two stops alone netted White in excess of 5,000 career points.

In a little over a week, White, now an assistant coach for the WNBA’s Indiana Fever, turns 37.

It’s a reality those fondly recalling the sheer on-court splendor of the dark-haired 5-foot-9 guard/forward/center might have difficulty grasping.

White and her partner, Michelle, are proud parents to three young boys — Landon, who turns 3 in September, and 10-month-old twins Aiden and Avery.

Busier and some would say more successful than ever, White since 2007 has served as a college basketball analyst for ESPN and the Big Ten Network. She played a great game but now channels her professional energies into talking and coaching one.

On May 6, Fever general manager Kelly Krauskopf announced it would be White who will succeed current head coach Lin Dunn, who plans to retire at the conclusion of this season.

Daily Journal sportswriter Mike Beas recently caught up with White in order to gauge her thoughts on a number of issues:

MB: Can you summarize these first (nearly) 37 years of your life? So much it seems has been accomplished over a relatively short period of time.

SW: I don’t know if I can. It’s interesting because I have had a lot of basketball experiences, a lot of life experiences. When you’re a competitor, an athlete, you’re always striving for so much more that you oftentimes miss some of the things that you have already done. As long as I’m still competitively hungry to do more, it’s really hard for me to look back and to summarize the things that I’ve done. I certainly understand winning a national championship, winning a WNBA championship and things like that, but I don’t know if I’ll really have a true perspective until I sit back and look.

MB: You’ve been in the spotlight for over half your life. Has it ever been overwhelming for a small-town girl such as yourself?

SW: No, I don’t think so. I think one of my strengths is that I’m a pretty down-to-earth, pretty well-rounded individual. Part of that is my upbringing. There’s a lot of stuff going on outside my world that I don’t necessarily get involved in. I pretty much stay close to the vest and surround myself with people I care about and the people who are important to me. I think that keeps me pretty grounded. I try not to worry about the things I can’t control and worry about the things that I can.

MB: How important was it to work with coach Dunn after only getting to play for her your freshman season at Purdue?

SW: It’s interesting because I don’t really remember ... I mean I remember certain aspects of that freshman season, no doubt about it. But being able to be in meetings with her every day and see where the thought process is coming from, where the things that come out of her mouth are coming from, I think the last four seasons here have helped me tremendously. I think I’ve grown more than I’ve ever grown as a player or a coach because she forces you to think down the line. She forces you to think outside the box. It’s a challenge in a way that I’ve never been challenged.

MB: You played for the Fever when both the franchise and WNBA were new products. What were those seasons like for you regarding injuries, fan support, etc.

SW: First of all it was an exciting time. Not only am I playing professional basketball and we had a league that was beginning to give us an opportunity, I was able to do so in my home state. To be able to play nearly my whole career in my home state was really a lot of fun for me. Again, you really can’t put into perspective until you look back what it was like being an expansion team, because most of the players now all they’ve ever known is the WNBA. Some of those early years when you’re struggling, so to speak, in a lot of different areas as far as just being a business that I didn’t understand as a player that now you understand as a coach. But you know it was an awesome experience for me. The biggest thing is in Indiana basketball has been one way my entire life. It’s passionate, the fans are passionate, and some of the people I see in the stands today were there the first year I was playing. And I love that. That’s what makes this place so special.

MB: You have coached at Logansport High School and Lafayette Jeff High School as well as Ball State, Kansas State and Toledo. What was gained by working for those head coaches?

SW: For myself, playing for a lot of coaches and working for a lot of coaches you always learn a lot of things whether it’s drills that you like in practice, game management situations, substitution patterns. And you always learn from the things you didn’t like. You learn from the things you wouldn’t want to do. From every coach that I have played for or worked with I have certainly learned things positively and negatively. When you fully step away from the game as a player, that’s where you have room to really grow as a coach. I wish that sometimes as players if you can balance both you can see it from both perspectives. You take everything personally as a player instead of understanding different situations that coaches look at. It’s been a really good experience, and now I wish that I could go back sometimes and do things differently when I was playing. At the same time, being a player at each and every level helps me relate a little bit more to the players playing now. Hopefully that allows them to understand that, “Yeah, I get your perspective, and I’m going to listen to that.”

MB: How does being an analyst for the Big Ten Network help you as a coach — and vise versa?

SW: It makes you step back. As a coach you’re sometimes overly detail-oriented. You pay attention to detail so much that sometimes you can miss the big picture. From an analyst standpoint, while I still study the players and the game, I’m not looking at it as a scouting report. I can step back and see things from a broader sense. Hopefully I can break it down a little bit more for the viewer because of my coaching pedigree, and hopefully because of the analyst pedigree it opens my eyes to some other ways things can be done.

MB: Is one easier to you than the other?

SW: No. I feel my strength has always been my understanding and feel for the game. Because of that, I love studying it. I love watching it. I love strategizing. Those were the things that gave me the edge when I was playing, and those are the things that help me continue to grow as a coach. I don’t think one comes easier. It’s all sort of a combination of my work ethic and my journey to continue to grow.

MB: How or will the Indiana Fever look different with Stephanie White coaching them?

SW: Hopefully we’re getting more experience this year for a lot of our younger players, but we’re going to have the same kind of core values. We’re going to defend. We’re going to rebound. We’re going to have high-character players. We might play with a little bit more freedom. We might do things a little bit differently because we have younger legs, but we’ll have the same core values, which I think is the most important thing.

MB: I know Tamika Catchings has shown an interest in eventually becoming a WNBA general manager or president. Is this a possible career path for you, as well?

SW: You know, I’ve never thought about that. I know it’s never something that’s crossed my mind. I think certainly no matter what I’m doing I want to continue to be involved in the game. I want to coach for as long as I can. I got lucky and fell into this analyst’s role, and I’ll continue to do that for as long as I can because I really do feel like both make me better at the other job. But I would certainly be open to never closing the doors to something like that.

MB: Answer this: The greatest achievement of my life so far has been ...

SW: My kids. Definitely. It gives you a whole new perspective on the world. You think that you’ve had a bad day at practice because players aren’t executing or you didn’t put them in positions to be successful at the end of a game. And then you see your kids, and they give you a hug, and it’s like they have no idea what happened. I think it keeps you grounded. It’s one of the those experiences I would never trade for the world, and I think it’s helped me become a better human being.

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