This weekend, the MSU Sports Hall of Fame inducts five new members. Each day this week, we’ll be highlighting one of those individuals in this space.
Many stories in sports are about overcoming the odds to succeed, about underdogs breaking through or about miracles saving the day at the last minute.
That is not Tan White’s story. Hers is about one thing: being an incredibly good basketball player.
Not to say that White didn’t have her own hurdles and hardships in life, but her story on the court is that she quickly becomes the story of nearly every court she steps on.
The former Mississippi State women’s basketball great, now in her 12th year of playing professionally, will be inducted into the MSU Sports Hall of Fame, an honor she never saw coming, but one she very much earned in her four seasons at MSU.
When White finished her time at State in 2005, she was the career MSU record-holder for three-point field goals made (222), three-point field goals attempted (714), steals (372), blocked shots (118) and field goals attempted (121) as she became just the second player in school history to score 2,000 points and set an SEC record for career steals that still stands today.
And no, that’s not a typo. As a guard, White set the school record in three pointers and blocked shots.
“I’m 5’7”, but don’t get it twisted,” she said, “I can jump. I think for the most part it was just my energy. I was so determined with the passion I played with. I was everywhere. As I continue to play, I’m not even really that much of a scoring threat now. I can actually see that my drive comes from defense.”
Says the player who, as a senior at MSU, led the entire country in scoring with 23.5 points per game. Not the team, not the conference, but the entire country – no one in America scored more points than Tan White in 2005. Accomplishments like that are what White is looking back on with awe now as she prepares for her induction into the Hall of Fame.
“All these years,” White mused, “you say you want to be the best basketball player you can be, then when you get an honor like this and you reflect on all the things it took for you to get there, it seems surreal because it was just a thought, just a dream at first; ‘I want to be the best.’ To lead the nation in the scoring, how many people can do that? I know, every year someone has to be the No. 1, but you, out of all people? My mindset was, if I can accomplish that, I can do anything.”
Of course, part of White’s legacy comes in the form of the historic frontcourt-backcourt tandem MSU women’s basketball showcased for two years when White played with fellow MSU Hall of Fame inductee LaToya Thomas. One of the greatest forwards in SEC history, Thomas was a big part of White choosing to play basketball at MSU in the first place. Thomas and her teammates had started something, and White wanted to be a part of it.
“Once you had [LaToya] and Tan came with her,” then-head coach Sharon Fanning-Otis remembered, “that was quite the threat offensively with those two kids in the perimeter and post.”
Said MSU Athletic Director Scott Stricklin, “That was a great 1-2 punch and put Mississippi State women’s basketball on the map for the first time. Candidly, when we were hiring [current head coach Vic Schaefer], I said, ‘I know we can do it here, because we’ve had success when LaToya and Tan were here. They kind of charted the course, if you will, that our ladies are now on.”
Together, the duo gave the conference fits. It was only appropriate that Thomas, who barely preceded White at MSU, went No. 1 overall in the WNBA Draft, only to see White be selected No. 2 overall two years later. Fitting that Thomas was inducted into the MSU Sports Hall of Fame last year, followed by her younger teammate White now in 2016.
“She made it easy for me when I came to State,” White said. “We’re both pretty laid back. Some people have this ego, but she never did that. She welcomed me to the team saying, ‘Yeah, I’m here, but we’re with you. I need your help.’ It could have been even more special had we had a couple more years together.
“It’s really a dream come true,” White continued. “That wasn’t something I thought about growing up. I just loved basketball. So to be a part of turning a program around is unreal. It’s something that I’ll be forever grateful for.”
White was already considered one of the greats in MSU lore. Her numbers speak for themselves, though plenty more words have been spoken about her regardless. White didn’t expect to lead the country in scoring, didn’t imagine she’d be the No. 2 pick in the draft, didn’t guess she’d still be playing pro ball 13 seasons after her last game in the maroon and white, and she certainly had no plans to one day stand in front of a crowd as she is inducted into the Hall of Fame. But here she is.
“I’m just some kid from Tupelo who just wanted to play basketball,” she said.
But, don’t get it twisted.
“I’m not surprised by myself.”