Oct. 23, 2007
Bloomington, Indiana -
If a team takes on the personality of its leadership, then the 2007-08 Indiana men's basketball team should smile a lot. Senior D.J. White, a consensus preseason All-American, is rarely in a foul mood. His enthusiasm and love for the game are evident as is his constant smile.
For the Tuscaloosa, Alabama native, this season is one where he looks to be the most complete big man in the Big Ten and he realizes expectations are high for the Hoosiers.
"I think D.J. is going to have an outstanding season," said second year year Coach Kelvin Sampson. "There is a lot of difference between D.J. today and D.J. last year at this time."
White earned second team All-Big Ten honors after averaging 13.8 points and 7.3 rebounds and he will be counted on to provide greater leadership as well as a commanding presence inside."
"You can elect captains but you can't elect your leaders," added Sampson. "D.J. and Lance (Stemler) have been great leaders, and not just because they are captains. I've had some captains that couldn't lead you to their house, but these two guys are outstanding leaders."
Perhaps another factor that has given White extra confidence this season was his outstanding play at the 2007 Pan American Games. He averaged a team-high 16.8 points and 8.6 rebounds and led the team in steals (12).
"This season, I think D.J. just isn't the same kid," noted Sampson. "He's a lot more confident. He's got swagger. This is his team. Let's not make any mistakes about that. This is D.J. White's team. Teams that are billed as talented and as touted, but they aren't as good as you think they should be - it comes down to player leadership."
White understands and relishes the opportunity to leave a positive mark on the Hoosier program.
Have you enjoyed your role as a leader for this Indiana basketball team?
When someone watches you out on the basketball court, it looks like you are having a lot of fun doing what you do and you play with a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of emotion. Talk about where that personality comes from and how long have you had that confidence?
"I've enjoyed it. Being the voice for my teammates, speaking up for how they feel and different things like, I enjoy that. The team looks up to me and I want to be the leader for them."
"That started when I was young and first started playing basketball. I just have a good time out there, I feel there is no need to pout and be sad. Just relax, play and have fun. I play better when I relax and have fun. I just enjoy, I don't where it came from, but it started at early age."
What brought you to Indiana University?
"The tradition of the school. Coach (Mike) Davis was a doing a good job and I wanted to come up here and play for him. When he brought me here to campus, I grew to love the fans, the people and the tradition, that's a big part of it. Coming from a football state in Alabama, I wanted to get out of that and when I came I realized these people love basketball."
At what moment did you buy into Coach Sampson and decided to really step up your game?
"I don't think there was a particular time, play or game. During the Big Ten part of the season last year, I really started to understand Coach Sampson and what he was trying to do. The whole team, myself included, really bought in after Christmas break. We got a chance to really hear what he expected from us, and it went from there. He pounded it in my head to be a better rebounder and from my freshman year averaging five rebounds to last year averaging seven and a half to this summer with the USA team averaging nine, and I credit that to him (Coach Sampson) by pounding rebounding into my head. He had me always thinking about it when I was on the court and has helped me in different areas like that."
You had the chance to play in the Pan-American Games this summer and in the end when you look at, you had one of the best summers of any of those guys on the team. What do you take away from that experience and playing with a different set of guys?
"It was a great experience to play for your country's team in the Pan-American Games, it was a great honor. I had a good time, even though it didn't work out how we wanted. I learned about how hard each guy works, their different work ethics in order to get better. I still keep in touch with a lot of those guys. I learned about playing the pros from the different countries, about how tough and physical I need to be."
How do react to all the preseason accolades, magazine covers and praises from your coach about your leadership? What does it mean to you to hear that reinforcement?
"It means a lot, especially coming from Coach Sampson. This summer I was in the gym every day, he can you tell you that I was here very day. As for as the magazines and what they think and what they say, it's all great that nationally I am thought of like that, but at the end of the day it's just paper. I need to perform and do well for the team, working hard every day. I need to lead by example, we are such a young team. What I do, they do. I keep on my mind all the time that they are looking up to me."
What can you tell us about this group of young players and what to expect from this year?
"You can expect them to play to best of their abilities because that's what Coach Sampson always ask for. Each one of them has a different set of skills that they are great at. Jamarcus Ellis, I think he is the most unselfish player on this team when it comes to rebounding and passing the ball. That's all he wants to do, he's even said I don't care if I score, I just like to get other people involved. DeAndre Thomas is going to help out a lot. He showed what he about losing all that weight. It shows that he is determined. Jordan Crawford, people are not talking about him with this incoming class, but a lot of people are going to find out that he is a player, he's real good. Eric Gordon is as good as advertised. As all freshman do, I even had struggles when I came in, there is going to be times when he has to learn the college game. But with his game and his abilities, I think he will be fine. Brandon (McGee) is coming along. He still has a lot of things to learn, but in the end he will be a big help to this team."
How much fun was Hoosier Hysteria and do you enjoy that type of interaction?
"It was very fun, first of all to be in the three-point contest. A lot of people didn't know I could shoot three's and what not. Getting the chance to talk on the Big Ten Network during the dunk contest was also fun, maybe that's something I can do down the road if the opportunity presents itself. I just like having fun. That's one thing about me, you can ask all my teammates, I am always joking around. You rarely see me without a smile on my face."