Decensae White powers his way to Gators' basketball court

men's basketball
Decensae White (32) shoots from the free throw line during a game against the Cal State Monterey Bay Otters Dec. 1, 2012. The Gators went on to win 60-55. Photo by John Ornelas / Xpress

Against all odds, Decensae White was determined to pave his own way. After three years of Division I basketball, he found his place as a Gator.

White, 24, has gone down the road less traveled on his way to SF State. A former blue chip college recruit, the Pacifica native was raised to be a basketball player.

White started attending basketball camps as early as second grade, including his first camp, hosted by SF State alumnus Paul Clay, a former collegiate All-American. From there, White moved on to playing Amateur Athletic Union basketball with the most talented young competition in the nation.

In eighth grade, White had his mind set to attend and play basketball for Archbishop Riordan High School. However, after watching a game between the the school’s Crusaders and the Junipero Serra High School Padres, he had a change of heart.

“I met with coach Chuck Rapp (who still coaches the Padres) and that is definitely why I went to Serra, because I knew that I was going to get great coaching,” White said.

White excelled on the Padres, helping them get to the California Interscholastic Federation Division I Championship game in his junior year, which they ultimately lost to De La Salle in Concord.

Men's basketball
Decensae White (32) shoots from the free throw line during a game against the Cal State Monterey Bay Otters Dec. 1, 2012. The Gators went on to win 60-55. Photo by John Ornelas / Xpress

“He was a beast here. He was a dominant player. He was one of the most high-profile guys to come out of our program,” Rapp said. “One of the best players I’ve ever coached. In fact, for the WCAL (West Catholic Athletic League) he averaged over 20 points and 10 rebounds, which is unheard of around here.”

White is Serra’s second all-time leading scorer and was the 2006 West Catholic Athletic League Player of the Year, 2006 San Mateo County Player of the Year, San Francisco Chronicle All-Metro First Team and High School Sports Focus Player of the Year.

With these accolades came decisions. White was torn between multiple schools that were making offers.

Among those schools was Division I Texas Tech, which at the time was coached by the legendary Bobby Knight.

“Coach Knight called and I just thought it was the best thing since sliced bread for him,” White’s father, David White, said. “I thought it would be a good decision for Decensae to go to (Texas Tech) and get good publicity and be on TV.”

White’s father observed the structure the coach had along with his reputation as a disciplinarian and believed it was a great path for his son to take, though he does admit that White should have been allowed more of a voice in the decision he made.

As the only freshman on the Texas Tech basketball team in fall of 2006, White was driven to become one of the team’s key players. His time there could be defined as a struggle, but he saw it as a jumping off point for his career.

He was surrounded by other athletes with almost instant success, sharing a room with San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree.

“I just saw how quickly he was going through things, winning the Biletnikoff Award his freshman year. I kind of wanted to get that recognition,” White said.

In his two seasons there, White averaged 4.5 and 6.5 points respectively, a disappointing total. He left two games into the sophomore season, transferring to Santa Clara University.

“I guess I just wanted to be more of a factor offensively, the way that I wanted to play,” White said. “The style of basketball I wanted to play wasn’t really what we were doing.”

The decision to transfer was aided by White’s relationship with Lamont Smith, former assistant coach for the Santa Clara Broncos.

White wanted to play basketball back home in the Bay Area, but make a name for himself somewhere he wouldn’t be surrounded by players he already knew.

White had to forgo playing for Santa Clara for the rest of the 2007-08 season because he had previously played two games with Texas Tech for his sophomore season. He was instead regulated to help during practice.

As a junior the next season, he was able to get more playing time with the Broncos. Again White looked ready to make an instant impact, but fell short.

The Broncos struggled in the 2008-09 season under a new coaching staff, with Smith leaving for a job at Arizona State University. The coaching staff looked to develop some of the talented underclassmen on the team, but White’s role was phased out.

“Me and the coaches never really saw eye-to-eye,” White said. “I wasn’t really on the team. I was just there kind of following along.”

White took a 3-year hiatus from both the game and university.

“He kind of fell out of love with basketball,” White’s father said. “These last couple of years gave him a chance to clear his head.”

Now the father of a 1-year-old son, White’s focus has shifted to finishing his communications degree at SF State.

“My dad went to school here and I live just down the road a little bit,” White said. “When I decided to go to school here I found out I still had one year of eligibility here so I decided to play basketball here last minute.”

As a former SF State football player under Vic Rowen, White’s father says that he is forever grateful to the University, not just for the help for his son now in his senior year, but for his own past.

“Vic Rowen is the key to all of it. He was patient with me, being a kid from the ghetto, and believe me, I had a lot of ghetto in me,” he said.

Head coach Paul Trevor invited White to come try out for the team during the first week of the Fall 2012 semester and White committed himself to playing hard. He told Trevor he would work the hardest out of anyone he had on his team.

As a member of the Gators, White’s love for the game has been rejuvenated — and it shows. His father has noticed that White has been working harder on defense, something he wasn’t ever keen on earlier in his career.

“He is one of the hardest working players this program has had. He has grown up, he is a role model basketball player, the kind of guy you want in front of your team,” Trevor said. “It’s not even his talent that is most valuable to us, it’s his ability to lead. He is what you want out of a basketball player.”