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USC basketball’s Isaiah White at peace with sacrifices required to support his family

USC guard Isaiah White dribbles during the second half against Oregon State.
USC guard Isaiah White dribbles during the second half against Oregon State on Jan. 13 at the Galen Center.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)
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Xavier White was born in September, on the doorstep of his father’s final college basketball season, and three weeks earlier than his parents planned. So by the time USC opened its training camp 13 days later, Isaiah White was already well past exhausted.

Xavier wasn’t sleeping well. So naturally, neither was Isaiah. Every two hours, he and his wife, Jazmine, were jolted awake by their son’s crying. His wails sometimes woke up their 1-year-old daughter, Amari, too, leaving the whole family bleary-eyed when morning finally arrived.

For White, it was a particularly tiring adjustment. His boundless energy on both ends of the court was what first endeared the former Utah Valley forward to USC in the summer of 2020, not long after Amari was born. Last March, that effort made White an essential part of USC’s Elite Eight run, as he came alive at a critical juncture of the Trojans’ season, scoring a combined 35 in tournament wins over Kansas and Oregon.

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But by October, with two young children in tow, his energy was pretty much sapped. Some days, White struggled just to keep his eyes open during film study.

Looking back, the sixth-year senior shakes his head. It’s been a stressful season, he admits, balancing basketball with fatherhood and the pursuit of his master’s degree. While at practice, he worried about Jazmine and the kids. At home, he worried about hoops. Sleepless nights led to nagging injuries. And as he struggled to find his footing, White lost his starting spot.

“I can’t even explain how I got through it, or how I’m getting through it now,” he said, with a laugh last week. “But I knew I wanted to take on the challenge. I know it can’t get [any] harder than this moving forward.”

USC has managed to hold on for wins despite close calls in recent games. Here’s what to watch for as the Trojans close out the regular season.

As March beckons again, the road ahead remains challenging for No. 16 USC.

No. 2 Arizona is on the cusp of clinching a conference title if the Wildcats can get past the Trojans at a sold-out Galen Center on Tuesday. No. 17 UCLA looms soon after, followed by a trip to the Pac-12 tournament, where USC is assured of at least a top-three seed.

How far its season extends beyond that depends largely on who emerges over this final, crucial stretch.

When White decided last June to return for a sixth season, he had designs on being that spark. But he also understood that his next child was due in September. The timing was anything but ideal.

“I wasn’t going to come back,” White said. “But it was the degree. If my son was making this decision, I would tell him to go back. My dad told me to go back. At the end of the day, you never know how long you’ll be playing for.”

White came back determined to build on the previous season, to be a better version of himself. But soon, the exhaustion set in. Injuries to his back and ankle followed, each of which White attributes to the stress of his situation.

Isaiah White holds his daughter, Amari, while posing for a family photo with his wife, Jazmine, and son, Xavier.
USC basketball player Isaiah White holds his daughter, Amari, while posing for a family photo with his wife, Jazmine, and son, Xavier.
(Courtesy of Jazmine White )

“He was trying,” USC coach Andy Enfield said. “You could tell he was just a step slow. Because we’ve seen him at his best. He wasn’t at his best at times early in the season.”

With barely any rest, being at his best often felt like a pipe dream. Sleep seemed to only come in “sketchy hours,” he said. He spent what nights he could playing with Amari and Xavier. Others, he spent at the library, working, wishing he was home. His chaotic schedule meant regularly leaving Jazmine with both children.

“She’s a superhero,” White said. “She takes on a lot of the burden when it comes to the kids. She also holds me accountable. She knows I’m tired all the time, just going through it. But we just make it work. You just have to figure it out.”

Eventually, he would find his stride at home. But on the court, White never quite recovered the role he had last March. He averaged 20 minutes per game last season and is down to just 11.4 minutes this season. His points were cut in half, too, from 7.6 per game to 3.1.

Losing his starting spot was an especially tough pill to swallow. He knew none of his teammates could understand the load he was carrying, as much as they may want to. That fact — at least, at first — was isolating.

“It mattered to him a lot,” Jazmine said. “I know it brought him down a little bit. He would just pray about it. He just knew he’d see how things went, and he’d have a good attitude about everything. He was blessed to just be able to play and be where he’s at. He was told so many times when he was younger that he wouldn’t make it to the level he’s at right now.”

Drew Peterson hit the winning three-pointer with 11.5 seconds left, and No. 16 USC beat Oregon 70-69 for its school-best 25th regular-season victory.

The months since have offered some perspective. Not to mention more regular sleep. Xavier will turn six months old during the first weekend of the NCAA tournament, while Amari, now 20 months old, continues to grow closer to dad.

“She’s a big daddy’s girl,” Jazmine said.

Where her dad heads next after USC remains to be seen. But as the final stretch of his last college season approaches, White says he wouldn’t change a thing about the winding path that brought him here — and gave him a family.

“I don’t think I could’ve done this when I was younger, in previous years,” White said. “I really do feel that fire now that once I get through this, the amount of work I’m going to put in and the time I’m going to put into my craft, I really fell back in love with it again.

“I’m awake.”

TUESDAY NIGHT

VS. NO. 2 ARIZONA

When: 8

Where: Galen Center

On the air: TV: ESPN; Radio: 790.

Update: Arizona arrives in L.A. with a chance to clinch the conference, while the door is still cracked just slightly for USC, which trails the Wildcats by two games entering their rescheduled Tuesday matchup. USC went ice cold late in their last meeting and lost in Tucson, but a sold-out crowd at Galen Center should give the Trojans a boost. Will it be enough to take down the undisputed top team in the Pac-12?

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