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Craig White, dead at 44 shocked. One of the greats.

Former Lafayette College basketball standout Craig White dies at 44

If John Leone had one wish for Craig White it's that he'd be remembered as much more than a basketball player.

White, a former star basketball player at Lafayette College who scored 1,241 points from 1988-92, died today. He was 44.

Leone, the head coach at Lafayette during all four of White's seasons on College Hill, received a call from White's brother, Richard, today informing him that his former player passed away. The shocking news was a stunning blow to Leone. The former coach was uncertain what caused White's death.

"He was just an incredible person," Leone said. "It's hard when a young guy goes like that. Craig was something special. No coach could ever be successful without a guy like Craig. I'm just blown away, devastated."

Leone, then an assistant under the late Butch van Breda Kolff, recruited White to play at Lafayette during his senior season at Germantown Academy in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania.

Immediately upon his arrival on College Hill, White was compared to former Germantown Academy and Lafayette standout Otis Ellis (1985-89), who's the college's second all-time leading scorer with 1,870 points.

Leone said White, who played forward, came to Lafayette with a great deal of athletic ability but with a game that lacked polish.

"It was a little unfair because Craig was always supposed to be the next Otis Ellis," he said. "On the surface there were a lot of similarities. They were both 6-(foot)-5, they were both black kids from Germantown Academy. Otis wore No. 24 and Craig wore No. 42.

"But they were really as different as night and day. Otis was refined and polished as a player. Craig had to work for everything he got. He made himself understand the game. It's a coach's dream to get a kid like that."

One of White's lifelong friends was former Temple University and Philadelphia 76ers standout Aaron McKie. McKie, who played at Simon Gratz High School and was two years younger than White, attended many of White's games in high school, according to Leone.

"Craig's athletic ability at that level (high school) was just off the charts," Leone said. "He was a terrific high school player. He was unpolished but he didn't necessarily have to refine his game then because at that level he could just jump over guys."

Leone said White will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest dunkers ever to wear a Lafayette uniform.

"I don't think there was a more prolific dunker in the history of Lafayette basketball," Leone said. "One game he set a record with three dunks in 90 seconds against Colgate. I remember he had a monster dunk at Barton Hall at Cornell that was as close to a Dr. J. thing as I've ever seen. He was way up in the air."

"But again he was raw and he worked hard to make himself blend in."

Leone described White as "a middle class kid." His mother was a school teacher and his father, Rich, owned a roofing business. Rich retired shortly after Craig's graduation from Lafayette and Craig immediately took over the business.

"His mom and dad were the sweetest people," Leone said. "They were just the best people. And his brother was kind and soft-spoken. Craig took over the business from his dad and I'd like to think his Lafayette background helped him being around people."

White nearly transferred to Drexel after his sophomore season, and Leone remembered driving to his home in Philadelphia and coaxing him to finish his career on College Hill.

"Craig was just a very sensitive kid," Leone said. "He was a bright and thoughtful guy and sometimes he thought really hard about the world around him. He'd ask himself every day: 'Is this the right place for me? Is this where I belong? Do I fit in?' But he stuck it out and got his degree from Lafayette.

"I could always trust him. I remember he'd come to the house to borrow the keys to the gym. My wife would look at me and say 'Do you think he's happy?' I'd say: 'He's got the keys, his basketball and his boom box. He's fine.'"

Leone stressed that players like White don't come around often.

"He was one of the special ones," he said. "He really was. People who know Lafayette basketball remember Craig, but what they might not know is how much more he was than a basketball player."

His freshman year was memorable all-around. Ellis-Lewis-Roberts-Wescoe-Stankavage starting with Craig off the bench. A win over Rutgers and a league all-rookie team honor.
That was a great lineup. Ellis was on the all-league team and all-tournament team. Roberts was second all-league.
It's a very sad day to read about someone so young passing.

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