Three years ago, another ISU forward called a press conference to address his NBA future. In 2009, Craig Brackins gathered media to give ISU fans good news: He was coming back.
But this time around, Cyclone fans sat and watched forward Royce White tell everyone he was headed to the NBA after one year in an ISU uniform.
"Iowa State is a special place, and there will always be a special place in my heart for this university and my experiences here," White said. "All that being said, it's been decided by the people I trust that becoming a professional is probably what's best, so I won't be returning next year to Iowa State."
Though some NBA analysts across the country — most notably ESPN's Doug Gottlieb — warned that his mental illness would deter NBA scouts from taking a chance on a young man with a past; his play and demeanor while at Iowa State did their best to cast those doubts away.
White said the biggest reason he felt comfortable going public with his illness and giving details about it was because the city of Ames and the ISU community made him comfortable with doing so.
"The fans, I’ll always love; they uplifted me in so many ways," White said. "From the support on the court to allowing me to feel comfortable and at home enough to share my problems with anxiety and pursuit of helping those everywhere who suffer from mental illness."
White's goals, as he pointed out throughout the season, are much more far-reaching than simply playing basketball. Philanthropy is a passion of White's, and by going to the NBA, the 20-year-old said he will be able to reach people he might not have been able to before.
Specifically, White wants to help let the world become aware of those with mental illnesses and that with the right help and information, people can overcome those obstacles and be successful.
"Anything is possible," White said when asked what is possible for him to do about anxiety awareness. "Forty million people in America right now are diagnosed with anxiety disorder. It’s thought that probably one in four human beings on the planet, which is probably like 1.5 billion people, have some type of mental illness and the with that number there’s probably nobody who isn’t affected by it, directly or indirectly.
"So I think, as far as what I can do, I’m not sure. But as far as how much the awareness can increase, there’s no limit, and it needs to happen more so than me wanting it to happen.”
The reason he'll be able to raise that awareness, White said, is because Ames "gave me my life back." Prior to transferring to Iowa State, White was charged with theft and fifth-degree assault for allegedly shoplifting and shoving a security guard at the Mall of America. White eventually pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of disorderly conduct and theft.
ISU coach Fred Hoiberg, after speaking with Minnesota coach Tubby Smith, took a chance on White anyway, and that second chance was everything, White said.
“My life was not in a great place when I first arrived here two years ago," White said. "And, you know, the basketball thing was one piece, but more so this community and living in this community and seeing how great it is, and how well it functions and how much the people do for each other here really allowed me to reflect and find myself as a man and become better off as a human being and move forward to who I want to be for the rest of my life.”
Hoiberg's pride in White was evident during the news conference Wednesday afternoon. When asked what led to his recommendation that White opt for the NBA, the former ISU great too pointed to the Minneapolis native's dreams away from the court.
"He has so many goals over the course of his life, and we kind of came to the conclusion that the best thing would be to move on to that next step in his life, and I'm confident he'll take full advantage of that," Hoiberg said. "I'm confident that he's going to have a very long career and he's going to do a lot of things to help a lot of people, and that's the great thing about Royce."
Hoiberg received criticism for the decision bring White in. His strategy of bringing in several transfers from other high-profile programs — Chris Allen from Michigan State, Chris Babb from Penn State and Anthony Booker from Southern Illinois — was questioned, and many thought the mix of personalities and talent may not gel.
The future professional, however, said in the wake of the Cyclones' 87-71 loss to Kentucky the team proved a lot of people wrong this season. He said without the second-year coach — who he called "an idol and a friend" during his news conference — he definitely would not be where he is at.
"Without him, without his blessing, without his interest in me, I probably wouldn’t have landed here," White said. "And he had to go to bat for me in a lot of ways to even get me here, and he believed in me. And because he did, I think Iowa State believed in me too because of the credit he’s built up in this community.”
Now, with the decision official, White said he will begin preparations for the NBA draft. When asked what's next for him, White said simply, "Work."
Hoiberg, as a former NBA executive with the Minnesota Timberwolves, has a good idea what White will need to do, as well as what he can bring to an NBA floor.
"As far as skills translating to the next level what Royce does, the spacing is so much better in that league because of where the 3-point line is, you get five extra feet of room for spacing," Hoiberg said. "And there's not a lot of people that can stay in front of this guy when he's coming down the lane. He's a freight train coming down the court, and he showed that, I think, best this last weekend and had shown it all through the course of the season."
White finished his ISU career having averaged 13.4 points and 9.3 rebounds per game, and also led the Cyclones in assists (5), blocks (0.9) and steals (1.2), as well as turnovers (3.8).
With his performances in the NCAA Tournament against consensus NBA lottery picks in Connecticut's Andre Drummond and likely No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis of Kentucky, White vaulted his name into discussion for the first round of the draft.
Several NBA draft projections list White as a mid-first-round pick as of March 21. To ask White, though, he is not concerned with exactly where he is going to be selected. While he knows that's the speculation, and the advice he received on entering the draft was based in part on it, White is hedging his bets to a point. He is concerned, he said, about being selected at all. That concern, he said, will keep him satisfied no matter where he goes.
"I don’t know," White said when asked where he thought he would be drafted. "I’m still under the belief that I’m not going to make it, to be honest. I like to keep it that way and not get my hopes up. It’s something I’ve dreamed of doing my whole life, and I don’t want to be disappointed on draft night when my name’s not called.”
Going forward, White said he will always remember Iowa State and what it did for him.
The journey from the Mall of America to the NCAA Tournament was a long one, and White said it taught him a lot about himself.
"It gives me confidence, the things that I went through here, that I’m way more sound human than I was when I got here," White said. "That’s probably the best thing I took from this whole experience is that my outlook on life has me in a place where I can be confident the next thing that life throws at me.”