One year after graduating from Whitney Young High School in Chicago, Jahlil Okafor was celebrating a national championship during his lone season at Duke.
Paul White tuned in to watch his former prep teammate lead the Blue Devils past Wisconsin, 68-63, in the 2015 title game.
“I saw how happy he was and I was thinking to myself, I’d love to have that moment to cut down a net,” White recalled.
That moment came Saturday night when White scaled a ladder to cut the final shreds off the net that Oregon shot at during the second half of its 68-48 win over Washington during the Pac-12 Tournament title game in Las Vegas.
White turned to the gathering of Oregon players and fans on the court to whip the net through the air, culminating what he called one of the “top three” moments of his life when the Ducks clinched a spot in the NCAA Tournament by defeating the Huskies.
“That was big for me, you saw it all over my face,” said White, who plays with a stoic demeanor. “Usually that side of Paul doesn’t come out. Sometimes you might catch a glimpse of him here or there, but that was a huge moment for me.”
White is part of an NCAA team for the third time, but now has one of the starring roles as 12th-seeded Oregon (23-12) faces fifth-seeded Wisconsin (23-10) in the first round at 1:30 p.m. Friday in San Jose, Calif.
White originally signed with Georgetown out of Whitney Young High and played in 33 games for the Hoyas as a freshman when they reached the NCAA Tournament before losing 75-64 in the second round against Utah in Portland. White averaged 5.0 points and 2.8 rebounds in 18.4 minutes per game.
“I remember that year I was feeling almost like a fly on the wall,” White said. “I did contribute and we finished second in the Big East and earned a No. 4 seed into the tournament.”
White left Georgetown after his sophomore season and sat out a redshirt year when Oregon went to the Final Four in 2017.
The 6-foot-9 forward emerged as a starter last year when Oregon had its five-year run of NCAA trips come to an end. The Ducks appeared to be headed toward another NIT this season before winning their past eight games, including four straight at the conference tournament.
“That entire week and the weeks leading up to it really changed the narrative of this team and how people have embraced us,” White said. “People were counting us out three or four weeks ago. They were not worried about us. We were 6-8 in the Pac-12 and people thought we were just another team flapping in the breeze.”
Oregon took a two-point lead at halftime against Washington on Saturday before outscoring the Huskies 40-22 for a runaway victory. White had seven of his 14 points in the second half.
“I think we started to feel the energy going into halftime and that is what drove us to come out with such a bang in that second half,” White said. “It was a wonderful feeling. I dreamed of cutting down nets, pointing at the camera, and going crazy. I’m just thankful for everyone that had a part in making it happen.”
Four years ago, White totaled 10 points, four rebounds and two assists in 42 minutes with the Hoyas during two games in the NCAA Tournament. White ranks third on the Ducks with 10.6 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game as one of two seniors on the roster.
“That Georgetown team was a much older team and this group has a lot of young guys,” White said. “It is a complete 180 for my experience.”
Junior guard Payton Pritchard has similar feelings as the only other Duck who has played in an NCAA Tournament when he started as a freshman when Oregon reached the Final Four.
“Two different teams,” he said. “That year we obviously knew we would be a top seed and this year we had to win the Pac-12 Tournament to make the tournament. For me personally, this year has been one to remember because it is very special to win four straight like that. The way this team has come together and just fought is special. We are just ready to make something happen.”