Jatarie White is widely regarded as best girls' basketball player in North Carolina. But in a critical 3A Independent Schools playoff game this past season, it was the junior star who was imploring a freshman to shoot the ball.
Sure enough, her younger teammate's points were instrumental, as Providence Day (Charlotte, N.C.), outscored Cary (N.C.) Academy 17-2 in the fourth quarter en route to a 31-21 semifinal win.
"Basketball's a team sport," White said. "It's five girls, not one."
A star like that with an attitude like that makes things much easier for coach Josh Springer.
"A lot of kids that are elite basketball players, they want to do everything themselves," Springer said. "I think the best ones have great talent but they understand they have to empower teammates with less talent for us to achieve our ultimate team goals."
White was named North Carolina's state player of the year by both the Associated Press and Gatorade after averaging 19.0 points, 10.6 rebounds, 3.2 blocks and 1.8 steals and leading Providence Day to the 3A Independent Schools championship, where she posted 24 points and 12 rebounds in a 44-28 win over Rabun Gap-Nacoochee (Ga.).
The 6-foot-4 post player has so much skill that she is listed as the No. 12 prospect in the nation in the espnW HoopGurlz Super 60 for the 2014 class. But Springer said White's leadership skills also separate her from the pack, and they developed under unusual circumstances.
Basketball's a team sport. It's five girls, not one.” -- Jatarie White
Springer admits his hopes soared when White first stepped onto campus as a 6-foot-3 eighth-grader, but a conference rule prohibits middle-schoolers from playing varsity sports. So instead of helping Springer's squad, White led the eighth-grade team to a 19-0 record.
The only time she didn't put up a double-double was when she had enough blocks to record a triple-double. Yet, while she wasn't challenged much on the court, playing without older teammates forced her to take a leadership role.
"Her magnetic personality attracts teammates to her, and she lifted them up even though they weren't at the same talent level as she was," Springer said. "She became more confident in herself, not just as a scorer and a rebounder but as a leader on our team and as a great ambassador for our program."
That season also allowed White to get mentally prepared for varsity competition.
"When I missed shots I'd get super down on myself, and I just had to use that year to get myself together," White said. "I had to learn to go on to the next play."
College coaches are now circling as White starts to look to the next level.
The lefty has taken unofficial visits to South Carolina, Tennessee, North Carolina, Clemson, Florida, Miami and Florida State. She hopes to narrow her search this summer.
"I don't want to go too far away from home," White said. "Also I'm looking for a coaching staff that I get along with but [who] will make me better. And I don't want to be a [center], so if they have me as a 5 I probably won't go there."
White's appeal is obvious. She runs the floor well and has the versatility to shoot from the perimeter, but she's most powerful in the post, where she can face up or play with her back to the basket and has a variety of moves she can use to score.
And White is equally dominant defensively, with the ability to get into great position and the reach to alter countless shots. She's also disciplined -- White fouled out once in 31 games this season, despite other teams attacking her early to try to get her off the floor.
Away from the court, White has worked relentlessly on strength training.
"She came in as a long and lanky freshman, and now she's really a strong physical presence under the basket," Springer said. "I know, talking to rival coaches, that's one of the things they've said is that physically, we don't have an answer for her."
White doesn't just take advantage of smaller opponents. She also held her own against the No. 1 prospect in the 2014 HoopGurlz Super 60, 6-4 A'ja Wilson. In mid-February, White had 19 points, nine rebounds and three blocks while Wilson had 14 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks in Heathwood Hall's 41-32 win.
Springer said that White is also dedicated to her academics -- her GPA has improved each of her three years in high school.
So has her scoring average -- from 11 to 14 to 19. There were times when White was forced to carry the offense, and she had more points than Providence Day's opponent three times in an eight-day span in mid-January.
But when White was held to a season-low 10 points against Cary Academy, her leadership qualities helped ensure Providence Day would still be successful.
"External leadership from a coaching staff is important, but the best teams have internal leadership and player-to-player accountability and player-to-player chemistry," Springer said. "That's one of the things our team was really good at, and she was a main reason for that. She really built up her teammates to make them believe that they were valuable members, and we needed them in key moments like that state tournament game."