Making the leap from junior varsity to varsity isn’t supposed to be an easy one. Making the leap from junior varsity to one of the top players in the country in one season — in most all cases — is next to impossible.
For Heritage basketball’s James White, however, that was the exact path the 6-foot-5 guard forged this past season for the Patriots in what turned into an electrifying four-month stretch for the junior.
Entering the 2019-20 season unranked and without a single minute of varsity basketball experience, White shredded defense after defense on his way to averaging 24.1 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.8 assists in 30 games.
White eclipsed the 20-point mark in 24 of his 30 games played including a season-high 41 against Alcovy. White managed 30 or more points in six different games and 25 or more points in 11 different games.
All-in-all, White scored 724 points on the season, one of the top marks in the state of Georgia.
Expectations for White and company entering the 2019-20 season were minimal.
The Patriots were in what many expected to be a rebuild after losing their entire starting five to graduation, a senior class that had amassed back-to-back Final 4 appearances under then head coach Ralph Denmark.
Denmark left his post at Heritage for an opening at Stockbridge and Brian Anderson was tabbed as his replacement.
It didn’t take long, however, for Anderson and the brand-new Patriots starting five to prove they were a force to be reckoned with, starting with none other than White.
White, with the help of transfer RJ Noord, who averaged over 20 points a game himself and made major contributions to the team, helped lead the Patriots to a Sweet 16 appearance, eventually losing a heartbreaker to the eventual state champions, Chattahoochee in a back-and-forth game.
White’s incredible season for the Patriots made it a no-brainer to select the now four-star guard with numerous Power 5 offers as the Citizen’s Player of the Year for the 2019-20 season.
“I’m pretty proud of myself,” White said. “It is a very big accomplishment in my first year to average over 24 points. It was a great season, but there is unfinished business because we didn’t win it.”
As great as White’s individual season was, he and the Patriots were hit with their fair share of adversity.
Entering Region 3-AAAAAA play with a 12-3 record and winners of five in a row, the Patriots found themselves in a world of trouble after losing four out of their first five region games.
Their lowpoint came in a disappointing 77-66 road loss at 6-13 Greenbrier, running their region record to a dismal 1-4.
“I felt like we really got off track,” White said about their rough start to region play. “We thought we were so good. We went into region play 12-3 and thought that we were the best team out there and thought we could just beat everybody with our skill. Those teams came at us playing hard and we underestimated everyone. We just kept working. After we were 1-4, we turned it around.”
The Patriots followed that up with arguably their strongest two-game stretch of the season. White notched his 41-point performance in a dominating home win against Alcovy 97-89 and followed that up with a 25-point performance in a 100-66 home win against Greenbrier.
White and the Patriots went on to qualify for the state playoffs with a region tournament win against Greenbrier and won their first-round playoff matchup on the road at Lee County before losing to Chattahoochee on the road 73-68 in the second round.
Despite putting together a great season as a collective group and very nearly advancing to the state quarterfinals, White said he wasn’t satisfied.
“We should have beat (Chattahoochee),” White said. “I felt like if we would have won that game we would’ve won it all, or at least had made it to the championship game. It’s unfortunate, but we’ll be back next year.”
Looking back, White always knew he had the ability to play at the varsity level. White was coached by Ralph Denmark in his first two years and didn’t receive a spot on the varsity bench.
“It was frustrating,” White said. “I felt like I should have been there. But I couldn’t do anything about it so I just had to keep working.”
Following Denmark’s departure and subsequent hiring of Anderson, everything changed.
“That’s my guy,” White said of Anderson. “I really appreciate him. He believes in me and he doesn’t really give me restrictions. I know my limits, but he gives me a lot of leeway and tells me to do a lot of things that a lot of other guys can’t do. He was really hard on me about being a leader for the team.”
Overall, White said he really enjoyed getting to share the court with his fellow teammates this past season. With White and Noord manning the backcourt, the Patriots also received a ton of production from fellow junior Courtney McBride in the post.
Everyone played well this season,” White said. “The middle of region play was rough, but we got it together and played very well.”
Now in the midst of the offseason, White’s recruitment has taken off. After entering the season with zero offers to his name, White now holds more than 15 offers including the likes of Florida State, Florida, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Arizona State and Alabama.
“The people around me really believe in me, so I have to make it for them,” White said. “I’m really doing it for my mom, my dad, my grandma, my trainer (Rashard Thomas) and my AAU coach.”
Anderson said he’s already looking forward to seeing what White can bring to the court next season for the Patriots.
“His ceiling is so high,” Anderson said. “I think he’s only scratching the surface right now. I think he’s going to be even better next year in all aspects of the game. Not just on the offensive end which is what a lot of people noticed.”