Search

Homegrown Hoosier Hero Stephanie White-McCarty leads Purdue on a quest to win an NCAA title

Jan. 25, 1999
Jan. 25, 1999

Table of Contents
Jan. 25, 1999

Faces In The Crowd
Michael Jordan

Homegrown Hoosier Hero Stephanie White-McCarty leads Purdue on a quest to win an NCAA title

Local drivers tend to rubberneck when passing the Powell Home
Center in West Lebanon (pop. 760), Ind. Next to the parking lot
is a pixel board that flashes not only the time and temperature
and specials on plants and hardware, but also the latest stats
for the town's most famous resident, Purdue senior guard
Stephanie White-McCarty.

This is an article from the Jan. 25, 1999 issue

Bulletins like SCISSORS 99[CENTS]...WHAT A DEAL...WILD BIRD SEED
$2.99...PURDUE 83 NORTHERN ILLINOIS 55...STEF'S STATS...20 PTS 9
RBS 2 ASTS...59[degrees]/2:54 P.M.--which have been a staple for
the last three-plus years--remind the residents of West Lebanon
and the rest of Warren County of the Y2K problem they share with
Purdue. While the thousand or so folks who have spent many
Fridays and Sundays donning gold-and-black garb and piling into
cars for the 45-minute drive north to the Boilermakers' Mackey
Arena wonder what they'll do with themselves next winter, Purdue
worries about maintaining its women's basketball attendance,
which averaged 8,592 in the Boilermakers' first seven home games
this season, nearly double what it was before White-McCarty
arrived in 1995. "There's no question that a lot of people--a
lot--come to the games just to see Stephanie," says Purdue
sports information director Tom Schott, "and they're not just
from Warren County."

White fever was a statewide phenomenon long before she married
high school sweetheart Brent McCarty last May; long before she
became the Boilermakers' leading scorer (20.9 points per game
this season, through Sunday) and three-point shooter (50%) and
their second-best rebounder (6.1) and playmaker (4.1 assists);
long before her 24 points led Purdue past top-ranked and
allegedly invincible Tennessee 78-68 and ended the Lady Vols'
46-game winning streak on Nov. 15. What White-McCarty has done
for Purdue, which at week's end was 13-1 and ranked third in the
country, pales next to what she did for a certain segment of
Indiana's population while playing for Seeger Memorial High. "It
would take me an hour to tell you what Stephanie White has meant
to me," says Boilermakers freshman Kelly Komara, who was Miss
Indiana Basketball of 1998. "She was the first female hero in
Indiana. She was the first to get national recognition. She paved
the way for the rest of us."

White-McCarty's high school career is documented in several
books, including the second edition of Hoosiers: The Fabulous
Basketball Life of Indiana, by Phillip M. Hoose. On the cover is
a drawing of Indiana basketball's Mount Rushmore as envisioned by
Hoose: The figures carved in stone are Larry Bird, Bob Knight,
Oscar Robertson and Stephanie White. Among those who didn't make
the cut: Steve Alford, Damon Bailey, Rick Mount and John Wooden.

"I don't think we have a copy of that book around," says
White-McCarty, sprawled on her sofa, as she lazily pokes her foot
through a pile of papers, magazines and folders on a coffee table
in the off-campus apartment she shares with Brent. In fact,
there's nothing in the place to suggest that a basketball hero or
even a Purdue student lives there. Coasters and a blanket bearing
the logo of nearby Wabash College, where McCarty studies
economics and played defensive back for the Division III Little
Giants, are the only rah-rah stuff in evidence.

There are probably some well-worn Wabash playing cards around,
too. White-McCarty and her husband are addicted to euchre.
White-McCarty likes the game so much she makes playing it part of
her pregame ritual. Her postgame ritual includes signing
autographs, sometimes for hours. "I want to sign for everyone,"
says White-McCarty. "To be able to say that I had an impact or
made someone smile, that really means a lot."

Case in point: When White married McCarty in Lafayette, 800
people attended the wedding. That, she says, was a pared-down
invite list. "We probably still offended people," says her
mother, Jennie, a grammar school teacher and high school softball
and volleyball coach. "If Stephanie had had her way, she would
have just taken an ad out in the paper and invited anyone who
wanted to come. That's basically what she did when she graduated
from high school, and 500 people showed up for the party. So many
people have supported her, and she wants them all to know she
appreciates it."

Still, it's a relief to get away from all that support once in a
while, which is one reason White-McCarty will occasionally take
to the air. She chose Purdue over Stanford and Vanderbilt, in
part, because of its aviation program, which she was in long
enough to get her private pilot's license before switching majors
to communications. She hasn't flown in about a year, and she
misses the solitude. "That's the one place I found real peace,"
she says. "I didn't really learn anything about myself, I didn't
have any scares, thank goodness, it was just the one place where
I felt I could get away from ball, get away from school, get away
from everything."

As Indiana high school basketball legends go, Damon Bailey may
have been bigger, but White-McCarty was a pioneer. Before she
scored 66 points in one game, grabbed 30 rebounds in another and
passed for 17 assists in a third for the Lady Patriots of Seeger
Memorial, few folks in Indiana were paying attention to her
sport. "When people who had never seen a girls' game saw Steph
play, they decided they liked girls' basketball," says her high
school coach, Tom Polf, "and they came back for more."

White-McCarty grew up with two younger sisters in the same house
in which their father, Kevin, who works in the receiving
department of Quaker Oats, had been raised. Like a lot of kids in
town, she played soccer, baseball, softball and basketball, rode
dirt bikes and played euchre. But unlike most of her peers, when
she attended basketball games, she paid rapt attention or worked
on her ball-handling skills on the sideline. "In fourth grade she
was dribbling better than a lot of our varsity guys," says Polf.
By practicing constantly on her backyard court, with both Jennie
and Kevin rebounding for her, Stephanie also became a deadly
shooter. At 10 she led her under-16 AAU tournament team in
scoring.

By fifth grade Stephanie had begged her way into Kevin's
Sunday-night pickup games at the old West Lebanon High gym.
Playing against men who cut her no slack once she made it clear
she wanted none, Stephanie received an education few female
grade-schoolers get. "They taught me how to use and set picks,
how to box out, about passing on a fast break," she says. "All
these little things you usually don't learn at that age. They
treated me like one of the guys. They really wanted to help me
get better."

Kevin did his part to toughen her mentally by trying all sorts of
things to distract her on their backyard-court foul line,
including once firing off a gun behind her as she was releasing
the ball. Stephanie worked all the angles, too. "I used to tell
my mom I couldn't do dishes because it would take the natural
oils out of my hands and I wouldn't get a scholarship," she says.
"It didn't work."

All these efforts paid off in high school, and soon word of
Stephanie's extraordinary game began to spread beyond Warren
County. "Anywhere we'd go in the state, we'd see kids with WHITE
on their T-shirts," says Polf. "People from all over would drive
for hours and then stand in line in the cold to see one of her
games."

Stephanie graduated in 1995 with 2,869 career points, the Miss
Indiana Basketball title and the Gatorade, Parade and USA Today
high school player of the year awards, a pile of accolades to
match those collected by '95 Naismith player of the year Chamique
Holdsclaw, who graduated that year from Christ the King High in
Queens, N. Y. But while Holdsclaw joined a Tennessee program that
would win three national titles in her first three years--and
deservedly reaped the individual attention that went with that
accomplishment--White joined a Purdue program on the brink of
implosion. Disgruntled stars Leslie Johnson and Danielle McCulley
had transferred out the spring before, leaving a still talented
but fractured team whose bad chemistry grew worse when then coach
Lin Dunn raved about White's talent before White had even arrived
on campus.

White started every game her freshman year and averaged 10.8
points, a letdown to her local followers, who were used to seeing
her drop in almost 40 a night. "I lost a lot of confidence that
year," she says. The Boilermakers, a preseason top 10 pick, ended
up fourth in the Big Ten and lost in the first round of the
NCAAs.

When Dunn was fired at the end of the season, four players
transferred. White considered joining the exodus, but stayed,
along with point guard Ukari Figgs, who now forms, with
White-McCarty and sophomore Katie Douglas, the best backcourt in
the nation. "I knew if I asked for my release, it was just going
to stir everything up because I'm a local kid," says
White-McCarty. "I didn't want to do that to the program."

After her sophomore season, in which she averaged 16.4 points,
she again chose to stay when, after a year, coach Nell Fortner
left to take over the USA Basketball Women's National Team and
was replaced by her assistant Carolyn Peck, who led Purdue to the
Final Eight last year, with White averaging 20.6 points a game.
"Ukari and I have been through a lot of adversity here," says
White-McCarty, "but I feel we have a special team this year. We
like each other, and I'd like to see us get a Big Ten
championship and a national championship. I'd like to be an
All-America, too, but those individual accolades come with the
success of the team."

For all her gaudy stats, the 5'11" White-McCarty plays a
controlled game based on great court awareness. "She's like Wally
Szczerbiak at Miami of Ohio," says Stanford coach Tara
VanDerveer. "She reads defenses well and really understands the
game. She makes her teammates better." Adds Penn State coach Rene
Portland, "She's a real nightmare to play against. She can score
anytime she wants, and she leans in better than anyone. She can
really get that shoulder down and create the foul."

White-McCarty hopes to play professionally. The idea excites,
among others, the good people at the Powell Home Center. "I'm
sure we'd do her stats in that case, too," says Karen Powell, who
runs the pixel board along with her husband, Steve. "That would
be even bigger news."

COLOR PHOTO: BRIAN SPURLOCK [Stephanie White-McCarty in game]COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS White-McCarty likes euchre so much she makes playing it (with Brent) part of her pregame ritual. [Stephanie White-McCarty and Brent McCarty playing cards]
"She's like Wally Szczerbiak at Miami of Ohio. She reads defenses
well and really understands the game."