White's dedication aids Drury to regional crown
Purdy alumna booted from first practice, comes back an inspiration
SPRINGFIELD -- The sweetest steps Drury junior Shelby White had ever climbed belonged to an aluminum ladder on the basketball floor of the O'Reilly Family Event Center this week.
Moments after the Lady Panthers earned a 99-63 victory in the NCAA Division 2 Women's Midwest Regional Monday night, the climbing apparatus was set up for the triumphant team to cut down the net.
White took a pair of blue-handled scissors and lopped off a section of nylon about five inches long. She then held it toward a section of family members in the stands and let out a victorious roar.
"It was definitely one of the best feelings I have ever had in my life," White said. "All the hard work and dedication paid off."
White, a 2011 graduate of Purdy High School, averaged 16.7 points, 9.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, four steals per game during her career and was an all-state selection her senior season. White scored 19 points and collected 17 rebounds in the Lady Eagles state championship game.
She was recruited and signed by former Drury coach Steve Harold, who resigned after her sophomore season.
Drury hired Creighton assistant coach Steve Huber to replace Harold.
"When I came here I knew this team had talent," Huber said. "I don't want to speak ill of the former coaching staff, but I did question how some of the players were being used. In the beginning [of this season], things were rough. We had players and assistant coaches quit; yet those who stayed came together. I knew a night like tonight was possible."
Huber said as he watched White play and watched film, a couple of things stood out.
"Her shooting form was messed up -- a lot," Huber said. "I thought she could play harder. In our very first team practice, I threw her out."
White said the encounter acted as a motivator for her.
"He told me when I was ready to [learn how to] play, to come back," she said. "I have never been a quitter, and I made my mind up to get better."
Over the next four weeks, White dedicated herself to improving her shot and defensive intensity.
"You could notice the change in her," Huber said. "Every time the gym was open, she was there. She has become our team's defensive stopper. She shuts down the other team's scorer.
"I don't think Shelby gets enough credit for her ability. I believe she has become one of the best defenders in the country."
White has flourished in her defensive role. This season, she has started every game and played the second-most minutes. She averages 8.2 points, 1.7 steals and five rebounds per game.
"In high school, I had to be more of a scorer," White said. "After our first practice, Coach Huber has always been there to help and encourage and ride me to get better."
Huber said he doesn't consider his squad a basketball team, but a family.
"We have been through a lot in our first year," Huber said. "You look at Shelby, she is unselfish and strives to improve every day. She could have quit like some of the others, but she chose to fight. That is what I like about this team -- we are a bunch of fighters."
For White, the goal from here on is simple.
"As a collective unit, we are rolling," she said. "We still have more to play for this season. We want the championship."
The sixth-ranked Lady Panthers (27-3) are now headed to the Elite Eight in Erie, Pa., where they'll play nationally top-ranked Bentley (32-0) in the national quarterfinals Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.