LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- Royce White's fear of flying turned out to be a good thing for Iowa State -- otherwise the Cyclones' star would be a Kentucky Wildcat.
Kentucky coach John Calipari wanted him, but there was no way White could get on that plane two years ago bound for Lexington -- not with his anxiety and a child on the way.
He chose to stay closer to his family in Minneapolis and has never looked back.
"The great thing about Royce is if he gets something in his mind, he goes out and backs up what he's talking about," Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said Friday. "He's playing with a lot of confidence right now, a lot of swagger."
White and eighth-seeded Iowa State (23-10) will try to beat the top-seeded Wildcats (33-2) on Saturday -- just over two years after White had planned to become one of them.
Things have worked out well for White at Iowa State. He leads the Cyclones in scoring, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals.
This after being out of basketball and looking for a place to play. During a two-year stretch, White became a father, adjusted to being diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and overcame a string of oft-discussed legal problems.
"One of the things that triggers it is definitely high-pressure situations off the court," White said of his condition that he controls with daily medication. "The court doesn't seem too much pressure anymore because I've been there for 18 years. But, if something comes up that's kind of new to me and my body doesn't recognize it, it may trigger a little bit of anxiety."
Calipari saw a special talent that he could use with the Wildcats after meeting with both White and his mother.
"He didn't get on the plane, or he would have been (at Kentucky). I was blown away. Like I really want to coach this kid," Calipari said. "I knew he had some issues, but it wasn't anything of the heart. I've done this a long time, and if a young man has a good heart, I can deal with everything else, and I think he has a good heart."
A prep star in Minnesota, White first joined the Golden Gophers only to be suspended by coach Tubby Smith after a string of incidents.
White was arrested for shoplifting and a scuffle at the Mall of America, pleading guilty to a disorderly conduct charge, and was later charged and pleaded guilty to trespassing in connection with the theft of a laptop on campus.
He was given his release by Minnesota after having never played for the Gophers, then was forced to sit out last season because of NCAA transfer rules.
White chose Iowa State because of its proximity and his knowledge of Hoiberg from the coach's time in the NBA and in the front office of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
White fits the personality of the Cyclones: a group of longshots and late arrivers, including seven transfers, who have been derisively dismissed as "misfit toys."
"That's not who we are as people or anything like that," said Cyclones guard Scott Christopherson, a transfer from Marquette. "Everybody had their own set of circumstances, but I think we really bonded over that and kind of used that to come together and play the way we have."
The Big 12 newcomer of the year, White is leading Iowa State 13.1 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. The sophomore is one of only 12 players in the country to record a triple-double this year, grabbing 18 rebounds and adding 10 points and 10 assists against Texas A&M.
He seems to be at his best when the spotlight is brightest. In two games Kansas and its player of the year candidate Thomas Robinson, White averaged 18 points, 13 rebounds and 4.5 assists.
Now, instead of White playing with Kentucky freshmen Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and sophomore Terrence Jones, they'll be trying to stop him.
"It really doesn't matter who I guard," Kidd-Gilchrist said. "I like the challenge, but I just want to win games."
Though White travels by air during the season, he likes having time to prepare himself for flights.
He didn't have that time when the Cylones learned where they would be playing on Selection Sunday. So with a relatively short trip to Louisville from Ames -- at least by White's standards -- he decided to make the eight-hour drive with his grandfather while the rest of the Cyclones flew on the team charter.
"What my anxiety tells my body is that flying is a threat," White said. "So it produces adrenaline, it makes my body sometimes tired and for me to give my best me at this first region of the tournament, supposing that we can get it done and move on, I want to be 100 percent for my teammates.
"So taking an eight-hour haul was well worth it."
White and his grandfather will make the drive back after Saturday night's game.
White wants to win, even if it means flying again sooner than expected. The South Regional shifts to Atlanta on Friday.
"I'm just going to get on the plane, say my prayers, hope it gets there safe and get to Atlanta," White said. "My anxiety will probably happen. ... That's something that I'm going to have to overcome."