CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- North Carolina point guard Stilman White knew he’d miss the laughter and dancing at Friday night’s "Late Night With Roy Williams" festivities. He figured he’d yearn a bit for the sweat and competition of Saturday’s season-opening practice.
But while his Tar Heels teammates are preparing for a new season, White is at home in Wilmington, N.C., preparing for a new calling: his two-year Mormon mission.
The 6-foot, 160-pound ballhandler -- who went from afterthought-off-the-bench to what UNC coach Roy Williams called “one of the great stories in North Carolina basketball” last March when he started two games for the injured Kendall Marshall in the NCAA tournament -- leaves Nov. 28 for the Utah Ogden Mission. The would-be sophomore will spend the next two years there studying scripture, spreading the Gospel and serving the community.
“I’m just so excited to get my calling; this is something I’ve been waiting for my whole life," White, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said during a phone interview last week. “As much as I’ll miss basketball, as much as I’ll miss my team ... this is a big moment for me, being able to serve.”
Once on his mission in Utah, White will wake up before sunrise on most days, and join a traveling companion preaching the Gospel, doing community service, studying scripture. Days can be long, stretching until 9:30 or 10:30 p.m. before the routine begins all over again.
And service is not without sacrifice.
Missionaries are allowed only two phone calls per year -- one on Christmas, one on Mother’s Day, and both to home. Although White will be able to send, and receive, weekly emails and letters, he won’t be allowed watch TV, have a cell phone, or use Twitter.
“I won’t be able to watch UNC’s games, so hopefully I either get emails from the coaches or other guys, and they can tell me how the season is going ... or maybe I’ll run into some Tar Heel fans while I’m spreading the Gospel, and they can give me updates,” he said.
As for basketball, itself, White -- who has always been a gym rat -- said he won’t get to play much, if at all. He will get Monday afternoons off as part of “Preparation Day,” during which missionaries usually wash their laundry, write letters and plan for the week ahead.
If the situation and time allows, he said, he might be able to spend part of that day working out. But he knows that’s a big “if.”
“It’s definitely going to be an adjustment, maybe one of the hardest things coming up for me -- not playing [basketball] on a regular basis," said White, who was dribbling a basketball almost before he could walk. “...But I also know I’m going there to work, to fulfill my calling, to spread the true Gospel, and that’s something I’ve always dreamed about.”
And it’s a dream that will begin only eight months after living another.
White was a little-known late signee who began last season as UNC’s third-string point guard when he was thrust into the spotlight as the starter for the Tar Heels’ Sweet 16 game against Ohio. With star ballhandler Marshall sidelined by a fractured wrist and UNC’s original backup, Dexter Strickland, in street clothes because of ACL surgery, White turned in a remarkable performance under the circumstances: six assists, zero turnovers and two points in 32 minutes.
He followed that 73-65 overtime victory by posting seven assists, zero turnovers and four points during UNC’s regional final matchup with Kansas. But the Tar Heels lost 80-67.
“Looking back, it was just a great experience being able to be put in the spotlight like that, and being able to play in games of that caliber," White said. “...But it was also a little bit disappointing, knowing we were just one game short of being able to play in the Final Four -- and that was one of our goals for the year, to make it to New Orleans.
“Sometimes you feel like you could have done a little bit more, since you came up short. But I walked off that court knowing I played as hard as I could, and I gave it everything I had. Maybe sometimes, it’s just not really meant to be.”
Something White is certain of, however: he said he has “has no doubt whatsoever” that he will be back in Chapel Hill two years from now, once again participating in “Late Night” and beginning pre-season practice with his teammates. Williams has said White will have a spot on the team.
White said he’ll miss being part of the next couple of seasons, but he’s thrilled to fulfill his new challenge and mission out west.
“I know this is what I’m meant to do,” he said.
Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.