Chatrice White is from a small town in Nebraska, but she is getting a lot of attention this week in Chicago.
CHICAGO — The population of Chatrice White’s hometown is 600 and it has no stoplights.
“We’ve got Main Street,” the Illinois women’s basketball recruit said.
Home this week is the Windy City: Population 2.75 million and 2,732 intersections with traffic signals. The 3-mile trip from the Downtown Marriott to the United Center, where White will participate in Wednesday night’s McDonald’s All-American Game competing for the West team, took more than 30 minutes.
“I’ve been here a few times for AAU tournaments, but we don’t come downtown,” the Shelby, Neb., native said. “I’m glad I’m not the one doing the driving. This traffic is crazy.”
The 6-foot-3 center is the first McDonald’s All-American from the state of Nebraska. Even after averaging 24.2 points, 12 rebounds and 4.4 blocks, she entered the week playing alongside the best players in the country as a relative unknown.
After three days of workouts, practices and a showing in Monday night’s three-point competition, she’s started to make a name for herself.
“She’s handled it all very well,” West team coach Randy Napier said. “Some of the other kids, you saw more headlines about them. Once I saw her on the court, she was a pleasant surprise. She’s talented.”
In the 13-year history of the girls’ game, only one McDonald’s All-American spent the week leading up to the game boasting that she was headed to play for the Illini: Destiny Williams in 2009. But Williams played in one game at Illinois before transferring after one semester and going on to star at Baylor.
UConn, Notre Dame, Kentucky, Tennessee, those are just some of the programs for which White’s teammates Wednesday night will play. She opted against playing for those traditional powers to help build something at Illinois with Matt Bollant, who will enter his third season in charge of the program in the fall.
“People have questioned me when I tell them where I’m going. They’re like, ‘Oh.’ Some people ask why I didn’t stay in state, and I just think the best thing for me as a person was to get out and see the world a little bit, I guess,” White said. “The coaching staff at Illinois is just so awesome. Their work ethic and their expectations for their players are high. They care about them as people and as players.”
As the Illini struggled through a 9-21 season and a 12th-place finish in the Big Ten, White admitted it was difficult getting those who questioned her choice of school to understand what she was committing to.
“Coach D (associate head coach Mike Divilbiss) would just text me and tell me not to worry about it, that it was just a round year, one of those second-year slumps coaches have at new places,” White said. “We’re just going to have to try to make it better next year. There’s only one direction to go.”
With a recruiting class headlined by White and Homewood-Flossmoor guard Amarah Coleman ranked among the Top 25 nationally by recruiting services, the program appears headed in a positive direction.
“I think Illinois is going to be happy with what they’re getting. She’s fundamentally so sound and strong, and she’s got great hands,” Napier said of White. “For a kid her size, she shoots it so well. She’s talented. She’s fun to work with; she’s got such a pleasant demeanor.”
The next order of business will be calming those nerves in the House that Michael Built on Wednesday night in front of the largest crowd White will have ever played before.
“I walked in here, and it’s, like, huge,” she said.
That banner honoring Jordan’s retired No. 23 that’s hanging above the United Center floor?
“Um, yeah, that’s pretty cool,” she said.