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Homegrown Hoosier Hero
Kelli Anderson
January 25, 1999
Stephanie White-McCarty leads Purdue on a quest to win an NCAA title
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January 25, 1999

Homegrown Hoosier Hero

Stephanie White-McCarty leads Purdue on a quest to win an NCAA title

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By fifth grade Stephanie had begged her way into Kevin's Sunday-night pickup games at the old West Lebanon High gym. Playing against men who cut her no slack once she made it clear she wanted none, Stephanie received an education few female grade-schoolers get. "They taught me how to use and set picks, how to box out, about passing on a fast break," she says. "All these little things you usually don't learn at that age. They treated me like one of the guys. They really wanted to help me get better."

Kevin did his part to toughen her mentally by trying all sorts of things to distract her on their backyard-court foul line, including once firing off a gun behind her as she was releasing the ball. Stephanie worked all the angles, too. "I used to tell my mom I couldn't do dishes because it would take the natural oils out of my hands and I wouldn't get a scholarship," she says. "It didn't work."

All these efforts paid off in high school, and soon word of Stephanie's extraordinary game began to spread beyond Warren County. "Anywhere we'd go in the state, we'd see kids with WHITE on their T-shirts," says Polf. "People from all over would drive for hours and then stand in line in the cold to see one of her games."

Stephanie graduated in 1995 with 2,869 career points, the Miss Indiana Basketball title and the Gatorade, Parade and USA Today high school player of the year awards, a pile of accolades to match those collected by '95 Naismith player of the year Chamique Holdsclaw, who graduated that year from Christ the King High in Queens, N. Y. But while Holdsclaw joined a Tennessee program that would win three national titles in her first three years—and deservedly reaped the individual attention that went with that accomplishment-White joined a Purdue program on the brink of implosion. Disgruntled stars Leslie Johnson and Danielle McCulley had transferred out the spring before, leaving a still talented but fractured team whose bad chemistry grew worse when then coach Lin Dunn raved about White's talent before White had even arrived on campus.

White started every game her freshman year and averaged 10.8 points, a letdown to her local followers, who were used to seeing her drop in almost 40 a night. "I lost a lot of confidence that year," she says. The Boilermakers, a preseason top 10 pick, ended up fourth in the Big Ten and lost in the first round of the NCAAs.

When Dunn was fired at the end of the season, four players transferred. White considered joining the exodus, but stayed, along with point guard Ukari Figgs, who now forms, with White-McCarty and sophomore Katie Douglas, the best backcourt in the nation. "I knew if I asked for my release, it was just going to stir everything up because I'm a local kid," says White-McCarty. "I didn't want to do that to the program."

After her sophomore season, in which she averaged 16.4 points, she again chose to stay when, after a year, coach Nell Fortner left to take over the USA Basketball Women's National Team and was replaced by her assistant Carolyn Peck, who led Purdue to the Final Eight last year, with White averaging 20.6 points a game. "Ukari and I have been through a lot of adversity here," says White-McCarty, "but I feel we have a special team this year. We like each other, and I'd like to see us get a Big Ten championship and a national championship. I'd like to be an All-America, too, but those individual accolades come with the success of the team."

For all her gaudy stats, the 5'11" White-McCarty plays a controlled game based on great court awareness. "She's like Wally Szczerbiak at Miami of Ohio," says Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer. "She reads defenses well and really understands the game. She makes her teammates better." Adds Penn State coach Rene Portland, "She's a real nightmare to play against. She can score anytime she wants, and she leans in better than anyone. She can really get that shoulder down and create the foul."

White-McCarty hopes to play professionally. The idea excites, among others, the good people at the Powell Home Center. "I'm sure we'd do her stats in that case, too," says Karen Powell, who runs the pixel board along with her husband, Steve. "That would be even bigger news."

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