The 6-foot-8-inch forward paused and smiled, admitting his emotion, as he thought back to the sea of gold rushing onto the court at Hilton Coliseum.
Royce White could have chosen from a list of personal performances to find his greatest ISU memory. There is the game-winning shot, his triple-double and NCAA Tournament performances against Connecticut and top-seeded Kentucky that sealed his NBA-bound fate.
Instead, Royce, who spent two years in Ames and one season on the court for the Cyclones, chose Iowa State’s victory against No. 5 Kansas at Hilton Coliseum.
“That was pretty emotional, a pretty great time,” he said. “There’s just so much that goes into that game, so many generations, so much legacy in one 40-minute stretch of basketball.”
During his lone season as a Cyclone, Royce averaged 13.4 points, 9.3 rebounds and 5 assists per game — all team-leading numbers — on his way to being named First-Team All-Big 12.
Finding comfort at Iowa State
Ames was not always supposed to be Royce’s college home. As a freshman at the University of Minnesota, White was a member of the Gopher’s basketball team. After two incidents in 2009, one involving shoplifting and the other a university laptop theft, Royce was suspended.
After time away from the court, other coaches recruited Royce. One of them was ISU men’s basketball coach Fred Hoiberg, who was familiar with White from his time in the front office of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
“The very first conversation I had with Fred about Royce coming to Iowa State, he was very excited about what he could teach Royce,” said Royce’s mother, Rebecca White. “As a mother, that was refreshing for me.”
White eventually chose Iowa State over Kentucky, in part because of its proximity to his home in Minneapolis and sat out the 2010-11 season before taking the court last fall.
In his time at Iowa State, Royce said he learned a lot about himself and said he is a different person now from the teenaged college freshman who was suspended at Minnesota.
“Having lifelong quality people as friends that care about you and care about your well being is definitely always a benefit,” he said. “That’s definitely something I found in [Hoiberg’s] family and the whole Iowa State community.”
Using anxiety to teach
Royce did not hesitate. “Anxiety,” he said when asked about what NBA teams wonder about most.
For much of his lone season on the court for the Cyclones, Royce answered a barrage questions about his anxiety, which began toward the end of high school with panic attacks.
In fact, it was part basketball and part anxiety that put White in national headlines during the 2011-12 season.
“I’m proud of Royce. I 100 percent support him being transparent not just with his anxiety but who he is as a person,” Rebecca said. “I think you limit yourself if you’re not honest with yourself about who you are.”
Looking back, Royce does not blame his past troubles on anxiety. And with or without the NBA, although Royce admits a professional career helps, he plans to keep spreading the word about mental illness.
“I’m just going to continue to talk about it and continue to be honest about it and open about it,” he said of his goal to spread anxiety awareness. “I think that’s what we need in this country and the world about mental illness — not only for myself but for other people who struggle with it and haven’t gotten the help they need.”
Hoiberg, who Royce considers a close friend as much as a coach, believes the NBA recruit can make a difference.
“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,” Hoiberg said at Royce’s departing news conference. “And that’s the great thing about Royce.”
His mother, who was often there to calm her son in times of his anxiety attacks as he was growing up, feels Hoiberg and Iowa State gave him a chance to grow not only on the court, but as a person too.
“I think Iowa State just provided a healthier environment, a nurturing community,” Rebecca said. “So he could do what he needed to do both on the court, in the classroom and all of that.”
Making Ames his ‘second home’
Royce is thankful for Ames, and thankful for the community that took him under its wing and offered a second opportunity when he transferred.
“They did give me a second chance, and they were very embracive in a situation where they didn’t have to be, because I was coming here with a past and a bunch of red flags,” he said. “There was a lot more positive reinforcement than there was negative feedback.”
During his two-year stay in Ames, Royce became a fan favorite, communicating with supporters through Twitter and embracing fans in public at local restaurants and stores.
On the court as a forward, Royce helped lead the Cyclones to their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2005.
“I’m glad that Fred was there to guide his ability and teach him a little bit more to play at this level,” Rebecca said. “I’ll be looking to see how much better of a player he can be at the next level.”
Royce said from the onset of his arrival, his goal was to emphasize creating a bond with the community.
His mother was not surprised.
“Royce comes from an upbringing where family is who you make it,” Rebecca said. “For fans who have watched a little bit from a distance, I hope they’re not feeling too disappointed that he has chosen to leave for the NBA — because he will be connected to Ames and Iowa State for the rest of his life.”
After all, Ames has become a lot like a second home.
“It is home,” Royce said. “The Twin Cities are home and [Ames] is home. It’s definitely always a place that’s going to be very special to me.”