Saint Petersburg, Russia - Aaron White has a lot to love about his basketball life at the moment - playing for one of the best teams in Europe; learning the game from a former Russian point guard great; and walking the exciting streets of Saint Petersburg. If the NBA comes calling, the Washington Wizards draft pick would love to play there. Until then, he will continue working on becoming one of the best players in Europe.
The Wizards’ second round pick at number 49 in the 2015 NBA Draft is well on his way to establishing himself in Europe. The former Iowa Hawkeyes standout is averaging 10.4 points on 30 percent shooting from long range to go with 6.2 rebounds and 1.2 assists for Zenit Saint Petersburg, who have a 7-3 record over two phases in the EuroCup European club competition. The club also is 9-3 in the pan-European VTB United league, where White is scoring 8.8 points with 7.3 rebounds and 1.3 assists while hitting 32 percent of his threes.
“Right now my goal is to be one of the of the best players in Europe. I love playing over here. My wife has loved the two cities we have been in and she likes living over here,” said White, who is in his second season in Europe.
Year two has gone much more smoothly than his rookie season. After earning All-Big Ten honors from the coaches and media as a senior with Iowa, White landed at German club Telekom Baskets, which was also playing in the EuroCup competition last season. But the team went through three different head coaches in the season and suffered a 14-game losing streak in finishing 12-22 in the German league and 2-8 in the EuroCup.
“Last year was really tough for me. I’ve never been on a losing team. I kind of learned a lot about what I wanted out of my career in terms of being involved with winning,” said White, who helped Iowa to NCAA Tournament trips his final two seasons in 2014 and 2015 and reached the NIT final in 2013.
“When I was looking to come back overseas over the summer I wanted to be with a team that could compete for a EuroCup title.”
In Zenit, White landed with a team with loads of scorers including former Cleveland Cavaliers and Brooklyn Nets guard Sergey Karasev, Ryan Toolson, and former NBA second round draft pick Janis Timma.
“This team has a lot of talent so I found my role in being more the energy guy, rebounding, running the floor and finishing under the basket. I’ve really enjoyed it,” the Strongsville, Ohio native said.
White has also loved being in Saint Petersburg, which is located on the western outreaches of Russia along the Baltic Sea.
“The city is beautiful. The architecture is cool, it’s got a mix of pre- and post-Soviet, so the buildings are cool,” said White, who lives in Russia with his wife and nearly 2-year-old daughter. “I was really surprised with how great the food is and the restaurants are. I wasn’t expecting that coming to Russia. But the restaurants have been awesome and all of them have areas for the kids and stuff. So it’s been great for the family.”
After all the turmoil in Bonn with the coaching situation, White has also really loved learning from Zenit head coach Vasily Karasev, father of Sergey Karasev who won two silver medals at the FIBA Basketball World Cup and a third silver at EuroBasket 1993 with Russia during his own playing days as point guard.
“It’s been awesome. He’s really a player’s coach. He understands the travel, the games, practices and how it takes a toll on the body and you need to be ready for the games. You don’t get a lot of that in Europe,” White said.
“You can always talk to him if you’re having troubles. I had a bad stretch of a couple of games and I was able to talk to him and see what he wanted from me. He’s fun to play for. He’s been hard on me but it’s fun to have his confidence. I’m happy to have a coach like him early in my career.”
As far as the future, White said one thing is certain. He will not be playing Summer League any more. He played there a second time last summer and is convinced it’s not for him.
“I don’t think it’s beneficial for me. If an NBA team or the Wizards right now think I’m good enough to be on the roster then it will happen. I don’t think I can improve my worth in five or six games in the Summer League. I’m more of a system player and play as a team and make the right reads and cuts kind of guy.”
White has a lot of respect for new Wizards head coach Scott Brooks, who worked him out over the summer in D.C. very early on after his move from California to D.C
“He didn’t know me, we had never met before and he came in and worked me out. That was really cool,” said White, who was in Washington D.C. for five weeks in the summer working with Wizards staff before the Summer League.
White says he still keeps in touch with the Wizards vice president of basketball operations Tommy Sheppard and the team’s player development and player personnel groups.
“They have a great staff. They’ve welcomed me in as if I’m part of the family even though I am over here,” White said.
White decided against going to Wizards training camp because he didn’t want to risk losing out on a good situation team-wise and money-wise in Europe had he stayed with Washington until the end of September.
He has a one-plus-one deal with Zenit, who must decide in May if they want to keep him next season. And there is an NBA out in June. So if the Wizards want to make a move it would have to be then.
“I would love to play in the NBA and would love to play for the Wizards. But if that doesn't happen I’ll also be extremely happy playing here for the next 10-plus years and enjoy being able to play and being able to grow as a player and play at the highest level.”
And enjoy life in Europe.