CHAPEL HILL — Stilman White spent nearly half of his childhood growing up in Wilmington, but he was never much of a Tar Heels basketball fan. Instead, White pulled for a couple of lesser-known schools out west - schools he thought he might attend before North Carolina came in with a late scholarship offer about a year ago.
"I was kind of a big-school hater, you know," White said Tuesday. "I was always pulling for Utah or BYU - the kind of mid-major schools."
Perhaps it's fitting that White rooted for the underdogs. It's a role he's adopting now, as North Carolina's backup point guard. With junior guard Dexter Strickland lost for the rest of the season with a knee injury, White, a seldom-used freshman, now finds himself in an unfamiliar role as the next logical backup to point guard Kendall Marshall.
White has averaged about four minutes of playing time through the first 19 games. And though it's unlikely his time will increase significantly, it is likely he will be asked to provide Marshall with some time to rest for at least a few minutes per half.
"I hope I'm a little nervous going into it," said White, 6-foot and 160 pounds. "Because I think that always makes people play better. And so I've got to make sure I come in and I stay on edge, and play with some edge and play hard and just kind of be a scrappy kid and just see what happens out there."
During his weekly radio show on Monday night, North Carolina coach Roy Williams described White as "a wonderful kid" who has effectively played his role during practice. But, Williams said, "We're going to put his feet to the fire in the next couple of weeks and see how he reacts."
White earned first-team Associated Press all-state honors after his senior season at Hoggard High in Wilmington. He entered his senior season there thinking he'd play collegiately at either Utah or Brigham Young, two schools that offered him scholarships.
After Larry Drew III abruptly left the Tar Heels in the middle of last season, North Carolina began recruiting White. And he found it difficult to resist the allure of playing for the Tar Heels.
"I never even really thought that I'd end up somewhere like here," he said.
A Mormon, White plans to embark on a two-year mission trip at the end of his freshman year. He said he hopes to return to school as a 21-year-old sophomore with far more maturity - and strength - than he has now.
After North Carolina's victory at Virginia Tech on Thursday, White traveled back to Wilmington to watch his high school team. He shared a conversation with his former coach, Brett Queen.
"And he said that, you know, just no matter what other people say and what other people think, (they) can doubt my ability (but) they recruited me to come here for something like this," White said.
He'll make his debut in his new role against N.C. State on Thursday night in the Smith Center. He admitted he arrived here with no expectations.
Yet there he'll be Thursday night, playing a role in a rivalry in which he never thought he'd be a part.
"Crazy things happen," White said. "You've just got to be ready for whatever."