Fever mentor got start with North leader’s travel team program

In the summer of 1996, Pat McKee was running a travel basketball program and didn’t have enough coaches for all of his teams.

McKee, who also was a sports writer at the time, had covered some Purdue women’s games and remembered Stephanie White mentioning that she might be interested in coaching. So he asked White, who had just completed her freshman year at Purdue, and she accepted.

But there was one catch. In recruiting players for that 18-and-under team, McKee didn’t tell them who the coach would be.

“She was so popular at the time, if it would have gotten out that she was going to coach, I’d have had 75 players wanting to play,” McKee said. “We got the players to commit to the program, and then were, ‘Oh by the way, your coach is Stephanie White.’ They were in heaven.”

White led that team to a state runner-up finish and a berth in the AAU Nationals in Spokane, Washington.

Now, 20 years later, she is in her 13th year as a college or WNBA coach, her second year as head coach of the Indiana Fever and has accepted the coaching job at Vanderbilt beginning this fall.

In her first season as a head coach at any level other than that travel-team stint in 1996, White led the Fever to the WNBA Finals last season.

“Last year, I felt like the growth of our team from the beginning of the year to the end of the year was huge,” White said Wednesday after speaking to about 100 campers at Columbus North, where McKee is now the girls coach. “For us to be able to go from where we started to be one game away from winning a championship was a very fulfilling year.”

White was the 1995 Miss Basketball after leading Seeger to a 92-7 record and four regional titles. She averaged 36.9 points a game as a senior and was the state’s all-time leading girls scorer with 2,869 points when she graduated.

At Purdue, White won the Wade Trophy as national player of the year after leading the Boilermakers to the national championship as a senior in 1999. She then played five seasons in the WNBA, including four with the Fever.

McKee remembers seeing White play for the first time as as an eighth-grader in a tournament at Warren Central High School.

“She had already built a reputation of sorts in the girls game, and she was very, very good,” McKee said. “I had heard about her, and sometimes the hype is beyond reality, but in her case, she lived up to and was even better that the hype.”

White helped out as coach at Lafayette Jeff and Logansport High Schools while still playing in the WNBA, then spent time as a college assistant at Ball State, Kansas State and Toledo before becoming an assistant with the WNBA’s Chicago Sky from 2007-10. She was a Fever assistant from 2011-14 before taking over as head coach.

In talking to the campers Wednesday at North, White mentioned that her college decision came down to Purdue and Vanderbilt. She said afterward that she has great admiration for Vanderbilt, and that led her to take its coaching position.

“Knowing the academic and athletic excellence that you can achieve there and knowing that I almost went there, it has a special place in my heart,” White said. “At the same time, it really compounded with a lot of other factors. It was going to take a special job to be able to pull me away from the Fever, and I believe that Vanderbilt is one of those special, unique jobs.”