During his senior year White narrowed his choice of colleges to McNeese State and Louisiana Tech. About the time White was getting ready to depart from high school, Malone decided to forgo his senior season at Tech for the NBA. White took up the Mailman's old zip code in Ruston. It was as if the town wasn't big enough for them both. White was immediately heralded as the heir to King Karl, even though at the time he gave away three inches and 45 pounds to Malone. Shirley White shuddered at the thought that her "bird-chested boy," who always called home if he was going to stay out past midnight, would succeed Malone. "I couldn't see my baby replacing that big old kid," she says. "Oh, that kid was big!"
Randy recalls being "like, totally, totally blown away" by all the Mailman hype surrounding his arrival at Tech. Shirley counseled him: "Don't put pressure on yourself to match him or try to be as good as he is."
Auburn coach Tommy Joe Eagles, then the coach at Louisiana Tech, was also quick to shelter White. "I knew protecting him would be critical to his development." says Eagles. "I knew he was going to be a very good player in his own right."
Through it all, White flourished. He started as a freshman and averaged 12.6 points and 6.5 rebounds as a sophomore. The following summer, he and teammate Kelvin Lewis drove White's Camaro to Dallas, where they worked on a construction crew and played in a tough pro-am league. While there they looked up Malone, who invited them to train with him. That, the two young players soon discovered, entailed getting up at 5 a.m., running sprints and then going to a gym, where Malone stunned his new companions by pumping iron nonstop for three hours. "He's a mad dog on weights." White says. "He'd say, 'You've got to come on, you've got to pick it up.' He'd call me lazy. Only the strong survive in the NBA: that's his attitude."
Studying the secret of Malone's success, White learned that muscular players who run the floor with abandon and do not run away from contact are handsomely rewarded in the pros. "Randy came home one day, and I can remember what he said almost word for word." Lewis recalls. "He said, 'Karl's big, he's physical, he's strong, he's doing well for himself doing what he wants to do, and making money doing it. That's what I want to do.' "
Malone also urged White to seek out the toughest competition. White listened, and learned. "I saw that I could play with these guys in the summer league," he says. "And if these guys could play in the NBA, then maybe I could, too." At times he even went head-to-head with Malone, and more than held his own. "If he and Karl ever played one-on-one again, I'd be selling tickets," says Roberson.
When White returned to campus for his junior season, he had filled out by 15 pounds, to 235: most of the extra weight was in his upper body. He finished the 1987-88 season sixth in the country in rebounding (11.6 per game) and seventh in field goal percentage (63.8%), and he averaged 18.6 points. He followed that up with a senior season in which he averaged 10.5 boards and 21.2 points and shot 60%. Throughout the '88-89 season, the Tech sports information department sent out fliers proclaiming him AMERICA'S BEST UNKNOWN PLAYER and THE BEST PLAYER YOU'VE NEVER HEARD OF. However, he did not escape the probing eyes of pro scouts looking for, say, the next Karl Malone. "He was a household name in the NBA," says superscout Marty Blake.
Those who have charted the careers of White and Malone say that White's skills are more developed than Malone's were at the same stage. White is a better ball handler and a better shooter, and he has a more polished array of inside moves. As a rebounder White might also rate a slight edge, and Lewis believes his work ethic is even more rigorous than Malone's. But the Mailman's hunger—and with it, his skills—seemed to expand exponentially in the NBA. Malone now has no peer at sprinting from baseline to baseline; only a handful of courageous, well-insured players will stand their ground and absorb his charges. For some NBA executives, Malone's success raises a couple of questions about White. Says Jerry Loyd, the current Tech coach, "Is Randy tough enough? Yes. Is he ornery enough? Maybe."
White and Roberson start their weekday workouts at 6:30 a.m. on a track at SMU. There Roberson puts him through a series of stretching exercises and 200- to 600-yard sprints, teaching him to run with lightness and flexibility. Then it's on to the weight room for a three-hour session, followed by some one-on-one and an evening 15-mile bike ride. "I started with Karl and liked the results." says Roberson. "If I can do the same thing with Randy, we'll have a monster."
Malone's self-confidence has rubbed off on his prot�g�, as White's assessments of some of his fellow draftables reveal. On Oklahoma center Stacey King: "He doesn't impress me at all." On Michigan forward Glen Rice: "Basically, he's a shooter, and that's all I see." On Duke forward Danny Ferry: "If he's the best player, then I'm the second-best."