Based on the results of the final poll the final 13 athletes really standout. There was a big jump in terms of the total number of votes between the #14 and #13 spots. JaJuan Johnson had just 225 votes, but our next ICON, Stephanie White, had 295 votes. White wasn't on every ballot, but she gained a lot of points because she was in the top 10 over most of the ballots she appeared on.
It's not really a surprise to me, either. We have had some great women's basketball players in our time, but White is probably the most famous. She rates as the highest woman in the overall poll. And she paired with Katie Douglas (#17) and Ukari Figgs (#25) to bring Purdue it's only National Championship in Basketball since 1932.
White Before Purdue
Most people view White and Figgs as inseparable. Figgs was Miss Basketball in Kentucky for 1995. White was Miss Basketball in Indiana. She was also the Gatorade National Player of the Year and USAToday National Player of the year at nearby Seeger High School in West Lebanon, Indiana. Her senior year she averaged an astounding 36.9 points, 13.1 rebounds, 8.2 assists, and 7.0 steals per game. Those numbers are almost Oscar Robertson-esque as she lead the Patriots into the Sweet 16 of the old one-class Indiana High School Tournament all four years of her career.
Let's put that into perspective for a bit. Seeger is currently one of the smaller 2A schools in the state with an average enrollment of less than 400 students. Before White, they had won just three sectionals and had never advanced beyond the regional. Her junior season they even reached the Elite Eight and finished one game short of the State Finals, losing to eventual champion Lake Central.
By the time she graduated she was the all-time leading scorer in Indiana Girls High School history, so she was sort of our own Damon Bailey. Her senior year she scored 886 points (second only to Abby Conklin of Charlestown in 1993 for a single season record) and her 36.9 per game average is still the highest single-season average in state history. She dropped 66 on Attica her senior year (second highest single game total). Her 2,869 career points shattered the girls career mark at the time by over 500 points (previously held by another Purdue great, Jennifer Jacoby), and is now second only to Shana Zolman's 3,085. If you combine boys and girls records she still rates fifth all-time, only behind Bailey (3,134), Zolman, Marion Pierce (3,019), and Ohio State's Deshaun Thomas (3,018).
There is some skewing with those records. Bailey reached the state Finals in three of his four years, playing at least eight tournament games in those four years, where White only played at most seven. Thomas, who reached his total with class basketball, played at most seven postseason games during his three state finals runs. Also, at the time girls teams were limited to an 18-game regular season as opposed to 20 for the boys. Seeger would go 92-7 during her four years, with four of the seven losses coming in the state tournament.
Becoming a Purdue legend
White dreamed of becoming an astronaut, so she came to the right place to work on that. It's still possible, too. White committed to Purdue not long after our Final Four run of 1994, and with her and Figgs coming along great things were expected. White was immediately named a starter, where she averaged 10.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game. Purdue went 20-11 overall that year, and 11-5 for a 4th place finish in the Big Ten. They then lost to Notre Dame in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
The troubles of Lin Dunn's era caused massive defections during the 1996-97 season, bringing on Nell Fortner as the new coach. White improved to 16.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 4.4 assists per game. The Boilers would go only 17-11 overall, but a 12-4 Big Ten finish was good enough for a 3-way tie for first place. That season ended with a 69-65 overtime loss in the second round of the NCAA Tournament to Old Dominion.
Things started to come together the next season, but White had to experience her third coach in three years as Fortner left to coach the Olympic team and Carolyn Peck took over the program. White led Purdue to a 23-10 overall record and third place league finish at 10-6. Purdue also earned a hosting site in the NCAA Tournament for the first two rounds at Mackey Arena. Her numbers got even better, as she 20.6 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 4.8 assists in her best statistical season. The dream of the Final Four also came close. The Boilers beat Washington and Colorado State to get back to the Sweet 16, then knocked off Notre Dame 70-65 to reach the Elite 8. There would be no Final Four, however, as Louisiana Tech knocked off Purdue 72-65 in the Regional Final.
The Championship season
Peck was offered a chance to coach the expansion Orlando Miracle during the summer of 1999, so it was obvious she would leave Purdue. It looked as if White and Figgs would have to deal with their fourth coach in four years, but both convinced Peck to stay and work for a championship. They knew they had a special team coming back with Figgs, Douglas, and Camille Cooper as a difficult four-headed monster that would be virtually unstoppable.
Purdue started out by shocking the women's basketball community by beating Chamique Holdsclaw and 3-time defending NCAA champion Tennessee 78-68 at Mackey Arena in the season opener. Purdue was ranked #5 at the time, while Tennessee was #1 and on a 46-game winning streak. White, who had been married in the previous offseason and now went by Stephanie White-McCarty, scored 24 to lead us in the upset.
Purdue then embarked on a two-game West Coast road trip armed with the first #1 ranking in school history. They won at Arizona 65-58, but lost 73-72 at Stanford. It would be our first, and only, loss of the season.
Purdue rolled after that loss to the Cardinal. Against Louisiana Tech at the Boilermaker Blockbuster they gained revenge for the previous season's Elite 8 loss with a 71-65 win. They won a game at Florida, and in the Big Ten season the closest they came to a loss were two-point victories at Penn State, Iowa, and Minnesota. The Boilermakers finished a spotless 16-0 in Big Ten play, then swept through three games in the Big Ten Tournament to be 28-1 and the #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Once there, Purdue got two more home games to open, smashing Oral Roberts 68-48 and Kansas 55-41. The Regional Finals were held nearby in Normal, Illinois, and a pro-Purdue crowd helped Purdue to its second Final Four with an 82-59 win over North Carolina and a 75-62 win over Rutgers. White had 22 points in the regional final as Purdue rolled in front of a partisan crowd at nearby Illinois State University.
Our second Final Four in school history brought a rematch with Louisiana Tech. Unlike the close six point victory in December, Purdue was in control throughout during the 77-63 victory. White had 17 points as Purdue moved into the title game with its 31st straight victory.
As I said during the Figgs profile, I was a freshman that year. I watched this game with a few friends living at Shreve since it was a big discussion to have Purdue in the women's final. The National Championship game was a tight one. White had a rough night, scoring only 12 points on a 6 for 17 night from the field, but Figgs wouldn't let her long time teammate falter. With 4:01 left White went down with a severely sprained ankle. As action went the other way, Duke hit a three to cut the lead to 47-42. White would be unable to return, but Figgs spurred a 15-3 finish to the game as Purdue scored all 15 points from the line.
Back at Purdue, the students went nuts. I was living in Cary Quad at the time and yes, I was part of the mob that was singing Hail Purdue around the engineering fountain before joining in the bonfire in the middle of Stadium Avenue. It was a great night as many students partied well into the wee hours to celebrate Purdue's first National championship in anything in well over 35 years.
White finished her career as probably the most decorated women's player in school history. Her 2,182 still ranks third in school history, but was second at the time of her graduation. She was a 3-time Academic All-Big Ten selection, Academic All-American of the Year in 1999, finalist for NCAA Woman of the Year, winner of the Margaret Wade Trophy and the Honda Trophy, Big Ten Player of the Year, Big Ten Female Athlete of the Year, was the Varsity Walk Award Winner, was a unanimous First-Team All-American, and a member of the All-Tournament Team. Finally, she was named National College Player of the Year in 1999. That's quite a haul of awards in her final season on campus.
White enjoyed a decent five year career after leaving Purdue, being drafted21st overall as rookie with the Charlotte Sting in 1999, then playing the first four seasons of existence for the Indiana Fever before retiring. She played 142 games during her career, and averaged a modest 5.9 points per game with the Fever. She battled knee and ankle problems, however, and surgeries cost her the 2002 season.
She has since began a career that crosses between coaching and TV reporting. During her injury lost season she served as a commentator for the Indiana girls' state tournament (including my beloved Lady Kats perfect season of 2003). She was an analyst for Fever broadcasts and served as an assistant coach at Logansport and Lafayette Jefferson High School.
She has since coached at Ball State, Kansas State, Toledo, and the Chicago Sky of the WNBA. The Big Ten Network has used her as a studio analyst for their women's basketball coverage since the network's launch in 2007.
It is with great honor that White is on this list. As I have mentioned many times, I was really questioning if I wanted to be at Purdue during the spring of 1999. The championship run and celebration really solidified my college experience and I can say it probably kept me on campus. That specific weekend I had gone home to Kokomo questioning if I wanted to come back. I am glad I did too, because that memorable night of celebration made me feel like a true college student for the first time. White, Figgs, and Douglas helped keep me as a Boilermaker, and you readers now have this wonderful gathering place as a result.