La. Tech mentor White returns to New Orleans roots to play Tulane
Michael White spent countless hours in Tulane’s basketball gym as a teenager. On Thursday night, he will try not to get too nostalgic when he coaches there for the first time.
White, the son of former Tulane athletic director and current Duke AD Kevin White, lived in New Orleans during high school, graduating from Jesuit in 1995. Three years into his tenure as men’s basketball coach at Louisiana Tech, he is bringing the Bulldogs (14-3, 2-0 Conference USA) into Devlin Fieldhouse to face the Green Wave (9-8, 1-1)
White’s family lived nearby in campus housing for a year after they arrived in New Orleans in 1991.
“Fogelman Arena (the name for Devlin Fieldhouse until 2012) was basically my backyard,” he said. “We didn’t know anyone in the area. I just moved a couple of weeks before school started. Literally, when I got back from school, I’d walk about 400 yards into the arena and shoot until they turned the lights out.
“It will bring back a bunch of memories I’m sure, but all that said, we better keep our focus on Tulane if we’re going to have any success. This is a business trip.”
White’s life in New Orleans coincided with Tulane’s glory days in basketball under former coach Perry Clark. The Green Wave made the NCAA tournament three times in four years from 1992 to 1995 — still the only three occasion in program history — and tiny Fogelman Arena was rocking.
“The atmosphere was electric,” White said.
This time, it is Louisiana Tech with the NCAA tournament aspirations, and White’s goal is to keep Devlin Fieldhouse quiet. Inheriting a program that had not been to the Big Dance since 1991 or won any postseason tournament game since 2002, he turned around Louisiana Tech in two years.
After going 18-16 in 2011-12, the Bulldogs (27-7) shared the Western Athletic Conference title last season, finishing with the second-most victories in school history, trailing only the Karl Malone-led Sweet 16 team in 1984-85. The Bulldogs won 18 in a row at one point, climbing into The Associated Press Top 25 for the first time since Malone’s final year. They also won away from home in the NIT for the first time in 25 seasons, beating Florida State.
The next step is winning a conference tournament to earn an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament. With four starters and nine of the top 10 players returning, White has not shied away from that goal in Louisiana Tech’s first year in C-USA.
“NCAA tournament or bust has been our philosophy this year,” he said. We’re deep, we’re athletic, we have very good guard play, and we have a high-level shot blocker.”
Louisiana Tech will play Tulane without leading scorer Raheem Appleby, who sprained an ankle in the first half last Thursday against Florida Atlantic and is sidelined indefinitely. His absence has not hurt the Bulldogs yet, though. They outscored FAU 51-34 in the second half of a 86-64 win, and routed Florida International 85-51 on Saturday.
Eight other Bulldogs average at least 12 minutes, with sophomore guard Alex Hamilton scoring 15.0 points per game, point guard Kenneth Smith handing out 6.4 assists, and 6-foot-9 forward Michale Kyser averaging 4.0 blocks, the third-highest total in the nation.
Louisiana Tech leads C-USA in scoring (85.9), is third in scoring defense (66.4), and is second in field-goal percentage (.472) and field goal percentage defense (.396).
“All of their guys are versatile, athletic players that can guard any spot,” Tulane coach Ed Conroy said. “They really use their press to great advantage, and they have some guys who can get on the glass and rebound. … (White) has done a good job. He’s got a good staff, and they’ve had some continuity and consistency with their players.”
That’s what Tulane has lacked under Conroy. After the Green Wave reached postseason play in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament last year for the first time since 2000, leading scorer Josh Davis and 2011-12 Conference USA Freshman of the Year Ricky Tarrant transferred, along with four other players.
The Wave, coming off a road win at North Texas, has a roster featuring seven freshmen.
The Bulldogs have only one underclassman, Hamilton, in their regular rotation.
White, who played at Ole Miss for four years and was an assistant coach with the Rebels for seven seasons before going to Louisiana Tech, clearly was ready for the promotion. Tulane, which is hosting to the Bulldogs for the first time since 1937, will face a loaded roster.
“We were fortunate the first spring that we got here to get the right guys,” White said. “We got a few kids that were competitive and hard-nosed and were sold out to winning above personal achievements. It’s probably the biggest factor in helping us get to the point we’re at.”