Red Lake Nation News - Babaamaajimowinan (Telling of news in different places)

Valpo's White represents family on the court


November 12, 2019

VALPARAISO - When Valparaiso's womens basketball team visits North Dakota later this month for two games, coach Mary Evans expects hundreds in the stands supporting the Crusaders.

No, the state isn't home to a major pocket of Valpo fans. Or at least it wasn't before this year.

But it's about two hours from Redby, Minnesota, the hometown of Crusaders junior guard Grace White. White is Native American and grew up on the Red Lake Reservation in northern Minnesota.

She's the first member of the Red Lake Nation who attended Red Lake High School to play Division I athletics. White represents her community every time she takes the court.

"A lot of the community is your family," White said. "You know a lot of people and you have family ties throughout relationships with the team, or people that have watched me as I grew up playing."

White transferred from the University of Denver this offseason, and Valparaiso learned Oct. 25 that her waiver to play immediately had been approved. While few transfers want to sit out, White and the Crusaders had even more reason to hope for immediate eligibility with games at North Dakota and North Dakota State.

In a convenient coincidence, Evans scheduled the games before White signed on. What would have been a typical road trip will be transformed into two home-like atmospheres for the Crusaders about 700 miles from campus.

White said all her family and friends have marked it on the calendar and are trying to organize a bus of kids to go. Denver played at North Dakota State during White's freshman year, and she said "the whole gym was full."

"This just kind of randomly happened," Evans said. "It was one of the reasons I really hoped the NCAA approved her waiver too, because it's cool to have this homecoming this year."

Red Lake County had an estimated population of just 3,999 in 2018, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. It isn't an easy place for young athletes to get exposure. Aaron White - Grace's brother who died of cancer in 2015 - used to keep stats for her middle school teams and said during Grace's eighth grade year that she would play Division I basketball.

Shortly after, her father, Roger White, started driving Grace to Minneapolis and back on weekends for AAU action. It's between a four- and five-hour drive each way.

"It came to the point during her 10th and 11th grade summers that we were going at least once a week for practice," Roger White said. "For me, that's one of the greatest things to do: watch my daughter play. She's inspiring."

Grace White's presence also makes it more likely Valparaiso gives the traveling fans wins to cheer about. She averaged 4.6 points per game and 4.2 rebounds a year ago for Denver, but Grace White and Evans said she played out of position her first two seasons.

She has settled in at Valparaiso both on and off the court, in part thanks the presence of redshirt sophomore guard Carie Weinman, who transferred from Denver to Valpo a year ahead of White.

All parties said the basketball fit will be better, too. While Grace White played mostly off the ball for the Pioneers, Evans said she's best with the ball in her hands.

That's significant for Valparaiso, which lost second-leading scorer Meredith Hamlet to graduation. Evans said Grace White's passing and competitiveness have particularly stood out.

"She has got a fantastic basketball IQ," Evans said. "If you're open, she's gonna find you."

Valparaiso opens the season Sunday against Ohio State in Springfield, Ohio, before heading to North Dakota later in the week.

If that isn't close enough to home, Evans said Valparaiso hopes to play a preseason exhibition game on the Red Lake Reservation next year so the children can see what they can achieve.

"I had to sacrifice a lot to get to even be a Division I (player)," Grace White said. "It's real important to me, being able to open a window or open a door or shed some light on something that's possible now."


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