The most prolific 3-pointer shooter in Syracuse history never launched a single shot from behind the arc until he was a senior in high school.
To understand why, it’s first necessary to get inside the analytical mind of Andrew White III, the 6-foot-6, 215-pound sharpshooter who recently completed his college basketball odyssey as a fifth-year graduate transfer at Syracuse after two-year stops at Kansas and Nebraska. In his lone season playing for Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim and the Orange, White tossed in 112 3-pointers to break Gerry McNamara’s single-season record.
Suffice it to say, White developed a process to arrive at that result, a process that began in the family driveway under the watchful eye of his father Andy, who played at Morehouse College. Young White wanted to stand out in a crowd of dunkers, fancy dribblers and crafty passers. He wanted to build a skill set that, as he puts it, “would make me different.”
That skill set revolved around the jump shot. But White didn’t start out cranking up 3-pointers. His ascension into a game-breaking long-distance marksman was gradual, step by carefully organized step.
“It started in the eighth grade,” White said. “Working with my dad early, we found a shooting form that worked. But I tried to perfect it from close range. And then as I extended out to the midrange, I tried to keep the same form. I literally did not take a 3-pointer in a high school game until my senior year [at The Miller School in Virginia].
“That’s how I became a good jump shooter. I found a form that worked, and only when I was satisfied I could make that shot [with regularity] from a certain distance, did I move back. The mistake that some people make when they’re trying to become great shooters is to take huge numbers of shots a day. But I’m trying to get to the point where I can make 10 out of 10 from a certain range, consistently. And then I move back.”
"He probably had the best offensive year of anybody in the league. He was there every night."
That approach took time, but by the time he unleashed his weapon from behind the arc, he had turned himself into a game-breaking shooter and a top 50 prospect in his high school class, good enough to sign with mighty Kansas. Appropriately enough, the first points he scored in college came in the Jayhawks’ 2012 season opener -- on a 3-pointer.
White enjoyed his time at Kansas, but he wasn’t long for Lawrence. During his time there, coach Bill Self had also recruited Andrew Wiggins and Kelly Oubre to play the same position as White. Competition was stout.
“I learned a lot at Kansas,” White said. “That’s a place where you develop a mentality of expecting to win, so despite not playing a lot, I became confident.”
One day White asked for a meeting with Self. The two agreed, amicably, to part ways. White wanted to play, so he signed with Nebraska to help coach Tim Miles build back a team that had advanced to the 2013-14 NCAA tournament.
The Cornhuskers finished 13-18 and 12th in the Big Ten during White’s redshirt season. When he returned to the court, it was with a flourish -- after averaging 2.3 points in his two seasons at Kansas, White averaged 16.6 points, 5.9 rebounds and shot .412 percent from 3. But Nebraska made only scant improvement, ending up 11th in the Big Ten.
Having earned his degree, White was at a crossroads, able to transfer yet again and be eligible to play right away, or turn professional. He’d been at an historic, perennial power but couldn’t find many minutes playing behind future lottery picks at Kansas. He’d played in the rugged Big Ten, but Nebraska was a combined 29-36, 11-24 in the league, during his time there.
White eventually declared for the 2016 NBA Draft. He worked out for a few teams and decided his game needed more work before he could test it at the highest level. But that meant another change of schools.
“The skill development work at Nebraska was really good for me,” White said. “Coach Miles put the ball in my hands, and I was able to score and be efficient. But I was ready for a new start. The timing of my decision [to transfer] made the fan base upset. But I’d graduated and gave all I could during my time there. I just wanted a new challenge.”
White wasn’t expecting what happened next. In recent years, the fifth-year transfer has become a commodity in college basketball. One coach calls it “the waiver wire,” or “free agency,” because players, provided they’ve graduated from their previous schools with eligibility remaining, are free to be re-recruited and not have to sit out as a redshirt before playing their final season.
White thought he’d hear from a handful of schools. He lost count after the number soared past 50. Syracuse, Michigan State and VCU, from his hometown of Richmond, were the finalists. The Spartans’ Tom Izzo and former VCU coach Will Wade, both of whom have incorporated grad transfers into their recruiting process, pushed hard. But ultimately the chance to play in the Atlantic Coast Conference, which White had grown up watching in Virginia, won out.
“I wanted to compete against the best players every night,” White said.
If playing time was also high on White’s list for his final destination, he got it. White led the ACC by averaging 37.2 minutes a game. Sports Illustrated’s Luke Winn, a noted numbers maven, figured out that White played 98.4 percent of available minutes in ACC games while also taking 26.2 percent of the Orange’s shots, the most of any starter in the league.
White wound up averaging 18.5 points, 4.6 boards and 1.6 steals. But his more impressive numbers were these: He launched 278 3s and made 112, sending current Syracuse assistant McNamara tumbling down to second place on the school’s single-season made 3-pointer list. White shot .403 from behind the arc and .837 from the free-throw line, where he attempted 141 shots.
That fairly high number of free throws was evidence of White’s continued evolution. “Ten, 12 games into the season, people started to figure out I was a jump shooter,” the ever-analytical White said. “I had a few off games early, and I had to make a readjustment. I don’t think I get the credit I deserve as a straight-line driver, and I also used my midrange pull-up and added a step-back shot.”
In the crucible of the conference season, with Syracuse trying desperately to earn an NCAA tournament bid, White scored 20 or more points in seven consecutive games. The Orange ultimately had to settle for the NIT, where White averaged 26 points and shot .555 from 3 in two games.
“Andrew played great the whole year,” Boeheim said after an NIT loss to Ole Miss ended Syracuse’s season. “We [were] a little disadvantaged with him at forward because of his size. That hurt us on the boards; that hurt us defensively. But offensively, he was great. You couldn't have asked for a player to have a better year offensively. He probably had the best offensive year of anybody in the league. He was there every night.”
White would have loved to play in the NCAA tournament, but he wouldn’t trade his time at Syracuse. “Coach Boeheim was great,” White said. “He rolled me onto the court and let me do what I do. That’s how he prefers to coach. He doesn’t over coach. Either you can play, or you can’t play.”
These days, White is preparing to prove to NBA general managers and player personnel directors that he can play at an even higher level. Just as he perfected short-range and medium-range jump shots before he moved past the 3-point line in high school, then became a knockdown distance shooter in college, he’s adjusting to the longer NBA 3-point distance. He’s also working on his defense, in hopes of becoming a 3 and D guy, ala Danny Green.
This time White’s tutor is in-demand trainer and shot doctor Drew Hanlen, who thinks White is one of the top shooters available in the 2017 NBA Draft.
“When he gets going, he shoots it with the best of them,” Hanlen said. “He shot a high percentage while playing a high level of college basketball, and has made a seamless transition to the NBA 3-point line. With his size, and our work tightening his mechanics and quickening his release, he’ll be able to get his shot off quick enough and space the floor for whoever drafts him.”
When White began working with Hanlen, it took White 0.92 seconds to launch a shot. Now, it’s 0.5 seconds. “That makes all the difference going against the best athletes in the world who also have length,” Hanlen said.
In college, White had developed a habit of falling away from the rim as he shot. Hanlen has helped him take out most of that. White has a list of checkpoints he practices day after day.
“It’s all about making sure my mechanics are in line,” White said. “Even though I’ve taken millions of shots, it takes sharp focus, presence of mind, not getting bored with the shot. The trick is you have to have a thought process to do anything well. On or off the court.”
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