Australian Jack White's leadership key to Duke's success this season

Jack White is not the star of the Duke team, but he is a two-time captain and constant voice. Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

DURHAM, N.C. -- With 11 minutes, 8 seconds left in No. 12 Duke's 88-69 win over North Carolina State on Monday night at home, Tre Jones spotted a streaking Cassius Stanley for a rim-rocking alley-oop dunk. All of Cameron Indoor Stadium went wild.

Well, almost all of it.

As his teammates leaped to their feet in raucous celebration, senior forward Jack White simply rose and pumped his fist quietly, a study in serenity.

The Traralgon, Australia product has seen this before.

"With Cassius, I've seen him do a whole bunch of incredibly athletic things -- same with Zion [Williamson] and a bunch of guys I've played with -- so I guess I've just been conditioned to see things that not a lot of people do," White told ESPN.com afterward. "I kind of recognize moments instead of plays -- him making that play at that time was a big moment for us to get the crowd going.

While White spent the night on the bench Monday, he did have his moment five minutes before tip-off.

As the Australian national anthem played to a somewhat confused crowd of Cameron Crazies who seem to be waiting for lyrics to what is an all-instrumental tune, White rocked on his feet and nodded. As the ode to his homeland concluded, White grit his teeth and tapped himself on the chest twice.

Welcome to Duke

White arrived from Australia four years ago, in awe of his surroundings, almost on a lark.

In December 2015, he was busy deciding what path to follow -- professional basketball in Australia or his lifelong dream of playing American college basketball, with Boise State and Hawaii vying for his services.

When a player on the Cairns Taipans was injured in mid-January, White found himself in the NBL as the equivalent of a high school senior, and he caught Duke assistant coach Jon Scheyer's eye. Before White knew it, he was on the phone with head coach Mike Krzyzewski.

"At first, I couldn't believe it," White said. "It felt very random and out of the blue. It happened so fast. As an international kid who hadn't been in the states before, who hadn't played high school ball or AAU, yeah, it was all a bit surreal to me."

White had two decisions to make: first, stay home or cross the pond; second, be a big fish in a little pond or a little fish in a big pond. Would he go to Boise and play 30 minutes a game for a team just praying for an NCAA tournament bid, or would he go to Duke and scratch and claw for every second of playing time?

"If I was going to college, I was really going to try to challenge myself both athletically and academically, and Duke is the best play to do that," White said. "I knew I'd be going up against future NBA players every day in practice and really pushing myself, trying to hold my own. The experience is second-to-none in terms of overcoming adversity and learning how to play winning basketball."

Joining a rare list of leaders

In 1905, the Duke basketball team went 2-3 in its inaugural season under head coach W.C. Cap Card and team captain T.G. Stern. Both returned the next season for what was then the biggest turnaround in program history, improving to 4-2, with Stern once again named leading the way as team captain.

Since then, there have been 24 other two-time team captains in Blue Devils history, a lofty list that includes legacies such as Jeff Capel and Trajan Langdon, Shane Battier and Chris Duhon, JJ Redick and Greg Paulus.

The list does not include Cameron legends such as Bobby Hurley, Christian Laettner and Grant Hill, who were captains for only one season each.

The list does include White and teammate Javin DeLaurier.

That is quite the honor for an Aussie import, particularly one who boasts career averages of 2.7 points and 3.0 rebounds.

Told only two dozen others have earned the captain's "C" twice, White was taken aback.

"It's a huge honor to be named captain two times here," he said. "I didn't know that. That's unreal to me."

White has seen his fair share of stars enter the Duke program four years ago. Eleven overall draft picks, nine first-rounders in total, including four top-three picks, Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, Marvin Bagley III.

Most of them were on a rocketship toward stardom.

Consummate team player

To his teammates, White is not so much of a surprise.

"He's the most selfless guy, one of the best teammates you could ask for," Duke freshman Wendell Moore Jr. forward said. "He inspires me to be better. Whenever he talks, the rest of us listen, no matter what he says. He really knows basketball, and he helps all of us. Young or old, he helps us every day. He's had his struggles and his ups and downs, and I've had my struggles this year, and he's gotten me through them every single day."

After starting his junior season shooting 21-for-51 from 3-point range while regularly playing more than 30 minutes per game, White suddenly went cold. In a Jan. 14, 2019, performance against Syracuse -- a 95-91 overtime loss -- White went 0-for-10 from beyond the arc in 42 minutes.

Two games later, he played 11 minutes. He'd play more than 22 minutes only once the rest of the season. At one point, he missed 28 consecutive 3s.

This season has followed a somewhat similar trajectory; after playing double-figure minutes in 20 of the Devils' first 23 games, he has cracked 10 minutes only once since, playing 14 minutes in a 52-50 loss to Virginia on Feb. 29.

On Monday night, the evening he was feted by the program one final time, he didn't even play.

Asked about the perceived slight, White says, "I try not to make it about me."

"It's part of me maturing," he continued, though not elaborating on his slump. "I try to really focus on and embrace the things I can control, getting in the gym, keeping a positive mindset. If I can do what I can control and at a high level, I'm going to be rewarded at some point."

A new perspective

Sixty-four seconds after Stanley completed a two-handed alley-oop from Jones, the prodigious freshman once again rose to complete the party end of a Moore loft.

This time, Stanley threw down a one-handed tomahawk, and the decibel level in Cameron could have shattered glass. It's half a surprise that Stanley didn't shatter the backboard himself.

This time, White could not contain himself. He exploded as if he had just witnessed a minor miracle. Duke, which had lost two straight, went into cruise control from there, and the Devils coasted to a much-needed 19-point win.

Stanley received the kudos after this game, along with fellow freshman phenom Vernon Carey Jr. Those two are just the latest of Coach K's recruiting coups, perhaps the next two Blue Devils-turned-NBA-stars-in-waiting.

"We've got a big target on our back, and I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't challenge these guys every day in practice," White said. "We know we get every team's best shot. We often feel teams have nothing to lose against us because we have such big targets on our backs. That preparation starts right away for us."

Proud of his path

White was beaming Monday as his homeland's anthem played. As proud as he is to represent Duke, he is equally proud to represent Australia.

There are more than 10 players in the NBA who were born and played basketball in Australia, including Ben Simmons and Patty Mills.

For White, he won't join that list, but the journey was worth it.

"For me, moving away from home for so long, I have a lot of pride about where I'm from," said White, who hopes to play professionally in Australia. "It's a pretty emotional thing for me. I'm super grateful for the university to do that, to give me that kind of recognition, to give me that moment. To see the [Australian] flag in Cameron is always a special. It just reminds me of where I come from, and how far I've come to be at Duke now."