Wildwood Catholic senior Jahlil White (above) is one of two players signed to Temple for next season. (Photo: Gavin Bethell/CoBL)
Mitchell Gladstone (@mpgladstone13)
CHERRY HILL — Wildwood Catholic coach David DeWeese admits that he often pushes Jahlil White’s buttons.
And sometimes, White hasn’t taken it well.
But it’s taken that prodding from the Crusaders’ longtime coach to get White to this point — a star for one of the best teams in South Jersey, and now, a Temple signee.
"Coach DeWeese challenged me mostly in being a leader and taking over games," White said. "He’s gained a lot of confidence in me, and without his help, I don’t know where I would be at this point in my career."
While the relationship DeWeese shares with White is not necessarily unique, it's clear that the pair have grown together throughout White's high school career.
“Over the course of the last four years, he has just matured tremendously,” DeWeese said. “I am tough on him and he responds to it. … He’s my guy. I love the kid and I try to do everything I can to help him become a better basketball player and a better person.”
The growth is something Owls coach Aaron McKie has seen from White as well.
McKie, who at the time was Temple’s lead assistant, first got the chance to watch White at a Wildwood Catholic practice last fall. He’d heard about a kid with “good size and a good feel for the game” but found something even better when he personally laid eyes on the Wildwood native.
“Each time, I was intrigued more and more by him,” McKie said of White.
Specifically, what drew McKie to the then-junior was his ability to excel in multiple areas of the game. White already has a smooth jumper but also knows how to play well in the lane, and at just 180 pounds, there’s still room to add to his frame — which could make White an even better defender at the next level.
“He’s multifaceted. He’s a two-way player. He can defend. He can play on the offensive side — you can put him in a screen-and-roll,” McKie said. “He does so many different things. That’s where you see the game of basketball going.
“Before, when you identified players, it’d be a point guard or a shooting guard or a small forward. And now, you really want to look for versatility.”
Against Archbishop Wood in the Dajuan Wagner Play-By-Play Classic, White showed flashes of each of the elements of his game.
White scored 16 points against the Vikings, combining with West Virginia signee Taj Thweatt, who added 19, to lead the Crusaders’ offense. He also helped ignite the Wildwood Catholic defense, which switched from zone to man after falling behind 23-12 in the first quarter.
And with 5.9 seconds to play, DeWeese put the ball in White’s hands, giving his senior swingman a chance to tie or win the game. But with his team down 54-52, White instead found a cutting teammate, dishing off for a potential game-tying layup that was ultimately deflected away.
DeWeese, while disappointed with the outcome, was still with White’s decision because of the trust they've developed these last three years.
“We’ve got a player-coach bond that I think extends beyond the basketball court,” DeWeese said.
That player-coach connection is something White immediately identified in McKie. Even as the Temple alum and former Sixer transitioned from top assistant to head coach, McKie remained White’s lead recruiter.
Despite 13 other Division I offers including other area options in Drexel and NJIT, White chose the Owls.
He then put pen to paper on Nov. 13, locking the three-star prospect in at Temple and making White the current centerpiece of the Owls’ 2020 recruiting class. Also committed and signed is Normal (Ill.)'s Quincy Ademokoya, a 6-5 wing guard.
“I love everything about Temple and I can’t wait to be there,” White said. “The coaching staff was definitely the biggest part of my decision. They made me feel like a part of their family."
Though DeWeese didn’t push White in a specific direction when it came to his decision, McKie’s work in ensuring one of the area’s top prospects stayed close to home didn’t go unnoticed by the Crusaders’ coach.
“Aaron plays a huge part,” DeWeese said. “I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I haven’t come across a college coach who is as connected as he is. He reaches out to me, even after [Jahlil’s] committed. He’s a great communicator.”
When White arrives in North Philly next fall, he’ll join a team that will have just lost five seniors — notably Quinton Rose and Alani Moore II, currently two of the Owls’ top three scorers.
That means there very well may be the chance for White to immediately contribute to a Temple team which should once again be competing for a spot in the NCAA tournament.
“He’s a very coachable kid,” McKie said of White. “When you come to Temple University, you’re going to be coached, and all of the kids are well aware of that. … I’m going to point things out, but I’m also going to let you know what you’re doing well.”
And if coaching has gotten White this far, it’s plenty reasonable to think he’ll keep growing at the college level.
“He didn’t take it well at first, but he’s come along,” DeWeese said of pushing White. “He’s been able to accomplish a lot of great things so far, and I hope he’s able to accomplish even greater things.”