LAWRENCE — In retrospect, Andrew White III wouldn’t have minded a polite heads-up. Maybe some kind of signal or advance warning. Anything would have been cool, really. Maybe then he would have stretched his legs or tried to get the blood flowing a little bit.
But, no, the warning never came. And on Saturday afternoon, with Kansas trailing Oklahoma State by eight points with 54 seconds left, KU coach Bill Self hollered at White and told him to go get senior guard Elijah Johnson.
“I was real surprised,” White said, “just because there was only 55 seconds left in the game.”
So in came White, a 6-foot-6 freshman guard who had 15 combined minutes in Big 12 play, and what happened next was as unanticipated as it was amazing. After sitting on the bench for 39 minutes, six seconds, White made a three-pointer, recorded a steal and finished with six points in 54 seconds as KU nearly pulled off another comeback at Allen Fieldhouse before falling 85-80.
“I was cold,” White said. “My arms and legs was tight. But I knew that’s why I was going in the game, (to) try to make something happen in a short amount of time.”
If the situation was different, White’s cameo may have been seen as some sort of springboard for more playing time — a coming-out party for a player who was just outside the top 50 in most national recruiting rankings. But here’s the funny thing about White’s role in KU’s near-escape: He might not play all that much when Kansas returns to the floor Wednesday against TCU in Fort Worth. And, as Kansas coach Bill Self says, that’s not all his fault.
White, who is averaging 3.1 points and 6.2 minutes per game during his freshman season, just happens to play for a team that doesn’t need another long wing with elite shooting ability. The Jayhawks have Ben McLemore and Travis Releford on the perimeter, and the Jayhawks really need another guard with better ballhandling and passing skills.
“You look at our team,” Self said, “and does Andrew deserve — from a talent standpoint — to play more? Absolutely, no question. But you look at our team and what’s our biggest need? Ballhandling and passing. So now, you’re putting in a guy that doesn’t do that as well as some other guys.
“To be real candid, if we were more consistent handling and passing the ball, Andrew White would be playing more.”
To hear that, you might think White would be a little frustrated about his predicament. On most college teams, the No. 51 recruit in the nation would be inserted into the rotation from day one. That, of course, is not always how it works at Kansas. And White, a native of Chester, Va., appears to understand the KU way better than most.
“You look at who’s playing the wing spots,” White said. “If I’m worthy of playing one of their spots, I don’t think so. So I just work every day in practice, keeping my attitude positive and just try to contribute when I can.”
For now, White says he’s content to battle with Releford and McLemore in practice and wait for his turn. He still has areas of growth, of course. To play major minutes on the wing, he’ll need to get a little quicker. And his ball-handling skills could use some polishing as well.
But Self believes White’s performance against Oklahoma State could provide a shot of confidence. And White, still just a freshman, is willing to be patient and learn.
“I have a lot of time to be the player that I want to be,” White said. “And for this year, I’m just trying to help my team continue to win. There’s some seniors on the team, some guys that might not be here next year, that it’s more important for them than it is for me.”