The culture of Chicago is known for various forms of the performing arts, such as improvisational comedy clubs -- the most famous being the well-known Laugh Factory on the north side of the city -- the Prairie-style architecture, and its deep-rooted history in Jazz, Blues, and Soul. But the staple of city is attributed to the cuisine -- legendary deep-dish pizza, the Chicago-style hot dog and the Italian beef sandwich. And while all of these qualities build unique character for the city, there is another side to urban life. A side that presents itself nightly on the local and sometimes even national news: the violent back-and-forth battles that take place in select neighborhoods around the city. And sadly the horrific sights and various situations have impacted a generation that unwillingly surrenders to the scenes around them.
“I’ve had, well I’ve seen a lot of stuff,” said Whitney Young senior Paul White. “I’ve seen family members get killed. I’ve seen family members die. I’ve seen friends get killed. I’ve seen friends die. I’ve seen family members basically at the point of dying and luckily being able to survive a bullet wound. I’ve been held at gun point. It’s been a lot of stuff where I would say that, I’ve learned I guess the logistics of life.”
White has experienced a wide range of unfortunate circumstances but he is keen on allowing those experiences to build his character and not let them negatively affect his outlook on life or mentally tear him down as an individual.
“You can’t dwell on anything that happens at that moment because time doesn’t wait for anything,” White went on to say. “So I’ve learned even with deaths that it’s ok to shed a couple of tears in there but you have to continue to live your life. I’m actually glad that I was able to experience those things because I feel like it made me a much stronger person.”
Growing up in the inner city of Chicago presents daily situations young African-American males have to learn to deal with, such as the heavy presence of gang violence and not succumbing to the pressures of street life. Many up-and-coming athletes however sometimes use the anger or frustration built up as a result of their surroundings as a type of energy supplying their battery pack once they step onto the court. The court in itself becomes an escape where all worries and uncertainties become null and void.
“I would definitely say that basketball is…. it’s a stress reliever. And it is the best one for me because I can be as aggressive as I want to, I can be as passionate as I want to and nobody will really look at me with an awkward look. And I’m just able to be me,” White said. “I can enjoy it; I can have fun with it. I can play with the type of pain that I need to and it is just something that I enjoy. I feel like it is something that completes me.
“I actually grew up on the south side, I grew up in Hyde Park. But I have family all over. Most of my family is from the west side, like my grandmother stays on Springfield and Division. I’m over there a whole lot. On my mother’s side, her family is all scattered out so I really don’t see too much of them. They are like scattered out throughout the country. I would say that my family, like my dad’s side, is like west side ‘til they die,’” White said with a laugh.
“That’s why it’s good to see that type of joy when I come around because we haven’t had much more with the generations that we have had recently so that’s why I am so glad that I am able to bring that to our family.”
The slender 6-8 power forward was seemingly born to play basketball. His cat-like reaction time and the hustle he exudes on the court are characteristics that cannot be taught. He did however receive a little push in the right direction when he was just a youngster.
“Basketball was always in my family. My father started me off when I was one year old, buying me a Playschool rim for my first or one of my first Christmases. And ever since then y’know I have enjoyed the game and I’ve never put it down. So y’know I’m thankful,” said White who signed with Georgetown University this past August.
“I felt like Georgetown when I went down there, I took two visits, one an unofficial and one official, and both times I went down there I was in love with it,” he said. “I felt like the coaching staff down there was the coaching staff that I would need in order to succeed. The environment is great. D.C. is a wonderful city. Georgetown has a very rich history, especially their basketball program and I felt like it was just the perfect fit for me.”
And while White’s hard work and dedication to his craft provided him with the opportunity to play in the Big East come next fall, he attributes the reason for his success to the few people that have been there for him since he took his first shot on that Playschool rim.
“I would definitely say my mom. My mom goes through a lot. She puts up with a lot. She’s someone that I really do look up to for advice. I look to my grandmother. I look to my cousins. I look to people who can really just relate to me and it’s really not the fact that I don’t view them as I guess you could say idols because in a sense I do but I just try to learn from everybody and see how they carried through with life; just seeing if maybe I should apply this to that or just seeing if I can get better results out of things. I just take any type of advice that I am able to get and I try and move forward with it,” White mentioned.
“My dad and I have a great relationship. He is someone that’s been there in order to push me. He has given me the guidance that I’ve needed and I’m thankful for that. He still tries to coach me now but he has taught me very good lessons about the game and about life. And you know a lot of people might not even have that type of guidance so that’s why I am just glad to have him here…. And he tries to make sure I stay on the right path because it is just so easy to get misguided in Chicago. So he is just trying to make sure that I do stay on the right path and keep a clear head.”
During the emotionally heavy discussion, White made mention of the tattoo on his upper arm, saying it was in memory of the family members that unfortunately passed and it was important for him to pay tribute to those that had such a profound impact on his life.
“It’s supposed to be three candles representing like I said my dead cousin and my two dead grandfathers and the smoke from the candles go up into rest in peace…. My cousin was the one that got gunned down and my two dead grandfathers, one of them died in a car crash and one of them died from cancer.” White described. “So like I said I feel like it is something that should stay with me and I feel like just me being able to, I guess, kind of show my type of love for them and I’m able to put it on my body permanently. It just shows the type of care and love that I have for them.”
After all the trials and tribulations White has been through, he never allowed that to affect his dreams of success. In fact, it was those experiences that inevitably molded his game, allowing him to have a relentless work ethic.
“It is just something that stays with me and I make sure that wherever I go that I have those types of struggles on my mind because it kind of keeps me going, it kind of keeps the fire up under my butt. Just making sure I don’t end up failing.”
And with him now being an ESPN Top-100 prospect, it was interesting to learn that he was not as well-known for his athletic abilities in his younger years.
“I was someone that nobody really knew about until like sixth or seventh grade,” he acknowledged. “You know how kids came through small-fry and all of that but I never did that. I was someone that just kind of played on the playgrounds and in little tournaments here and there. I played like at Dyett High School and I played over at Abraham Lincoln Center on like 39th and Pershing something like that. And I played out west like at Austin Township Hall. I played in a lot of street ball tournaments just because that’s who I was. I didn’t start playing AAU ball until sixth or seventh grade and ever since then I have been able to take off and just be successful with this game.”
White, who is a senior, now holds the weight of leading the Dolphins to a state championship -- the last one bring in 2009. Understanding the fact that his teammates will look to him for guidance and motivation when things aren’t going the way they would like is an idea he recognizes wholeheartedly. This mentality coupled with his past experiences is paramount to the success of this team.
“And to be honest, I’m not scared of failure so I feel like that also brings some type of leadership to me as well because I’ve understood what failure brings and what type of heartbreak it brings,” White said. “And I feel like it is just going to push us to succeed and I try to stress that to the group.
Come March, White is confident a banner will be hanging from the rafters displaying the 2014 IHSA State Champions and then only a few short months later he will begin a new journey at Georgetown University, with the hopes of continuing on to the NBA once his collegiate career has concluded.
And while White will undoubtedly be in unchartered waters once he dons the Hoyas’ uniform, learning a new system and adapting to D.C. life, the experiences of growing up in Chicago has equipped him for whatever lies ahead.
“I’m not scared of transition. I’m not scared of what type of adversity D.C might bring…. But also like you said me being from Chicago with things that I have experienced, I’m not really scared of I guess you could say anything. I’m not scared of facing trouble in the face and having to deal with it because I’ve dealt with it before. And it is something that I take with me and I make sure those life lessons don’t leave me,” White said with a look of determination in his eye.
Be sure to watch High School Lites at 11 p.m. every Friday night on Comcast SportsNet to see a new episode of DRIVE: Whitney Young Basketball, presented by Northern Illinois University. Also, check out the DRIVE: Whitney Young Basketball preps page for updates all season long here on CSNChicago.com.