TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Chatrice White returned home to her Tallahassee apartment a few weeks ago to find an unexpected visitor in the parking lot. It was Sue Semrau, and she had something to say. “She was like, ‘Roll down your window, we’ve got to talk,’” White said. White, a 6-3 center on the Florida State women’s basketball team, transferred to FSU from Illinois this summer. NCAA rules force transfers to sit out one season, but the NCAA will hear appeals from student-athletes and, in rare cases, grant a waiver for immediate eligibility.
White had already presented her case, but she wasn’t getting her hopes up.
“At the beginning, we thought it was going to be a 50-50 chance,” White said. “It was taking so long, I thought it was going to be a no.”
But Semrau wouldn’t make a surprise visit just to say, “No.”
So, with White’s full attention and a smile on her face, Semrau delivered the news: The NCAA had ruled in White’s favor. She could play for the Seminoles, effective immediately.
“She told me and I was just speechless,” White said. “I started to tear up a little bit, because I was so excited.”
Added Semrau: “I wanted to see her face, and it was everything as advertised. The joy, the disbelief, all of it at once was really special.”
Great timing, too. White – nicknamed “Tree” by her teammates – and the Seminoles started practice on Monday and they’ll open the regular season at home on Nov. 11 against Jacksonville State.
Florida State is looking to build on last year’s Sweet 16 appearance, which came on the heels of a run to the Elite Eight in 2015.
And White could be a big part of those efforts.
With four returning players who averaged at least 25 minutes per game last year, the Seminoles are loaded with both talent and experience. The biggest hole is the one left by Adut Bulgak, the All-ACC center who led the team in rebounding and blocks in each of the last two seasons.
In steps White, a former McDonald’s All-American who finished just a hair shy of a season-long double-double (18.7 points per game, 9.3 rebounds per game) while earning second-team All-Big Ten accolades.
A native of Shelby, Neb., White ranked in the top 10 of the Big Ten in scoring, rebounding, steals, blocks and defensive rebounds.
“Just that dominant inside presence,” senior guard Brittany Brown said. “I think that’s going to be really big for us to have that addition to our dominant ‘five’ position.”
Alongside seniors Kai James (6-foot-5) and Ivey Slaughter (6-1) and junior Ama Degbeon (6-2), White helps to bolster an FSU front court that should be among the most seasoned in the ACC.
And that ought to pair nicely with a stable of standouts that includes Olympic silver medalist Leticia Romero and two-time ACC sixth player of the year Shakayla Thomas.
“I think (White) really deserves the opportunity,” Semrau said. “And for the NCAA to approve the waiver really gives us more depth. Much more so than the points and rebounds she gives us, her presence, her personality, has been really special for our team.”
Florida State has found good fortune in the NCAA in recent years. Two seasons ago, the Seminoles received a big boost when the NCAA granted Romero – a transfer from Kansas State – immediately eligibility midway through the season.
Romero went on to earn honorable mention All-America honors prior to playing for her native Spain in Rio de Janeiro this summer.
Semrau said she expected White’s request to be denied, but figured it couldn’t hurt to ask.
“You think, ‘Let’s give it a shot,’” she said. “We feel like, if we have a strong case, we’re going to submit it, then it’s in their hands. … We know that we have great people in our administration (at FSU) that have been a part of that process and understand what they’re doing.”
After welcoming Romero, as well as Baylor transfer Imani Wright last year, the Seminoles also understand how to bring a new player into the fold.
Semrau believes that commitment to a selfless culture – potentially putting aside egos for the good of the team – is what makes her current group so special.
“Your core group of people has to know the importance of what it means to embrace that next group,” she said. “But I also think they want to be good. And so they’re going to be like – ‘Whatever it takes to be good.’”
Up next for White is a trip to China for the FIBA 3-on-3 world championships, a commitment scheduled – and approved by Semrau – when White thought she would be sitting out.
She’ll miss some practice time, but also gain experience that she can bring back to Tallahassee.
Then it’s full focus on the Seminoles and their 2016-17 campaign.
“I’m really excited to play in the ACC,” White said. “It’s different than the Big Ten. It’s faster, it’s more finesse than the strength and power of the Big Ten.
“But I think it’s going to be really good.”