When coaches convened at the annual Big East women’s basketball media day in New York City last month to name their picks for the preseason all-conference team, at least one choice was a mere formality. Georgetown junior guard Dionna White—who last season finished fourth in the conference in scoring, first in steals, and was named second team All-Big East—was unanimously selected to the preseason All-Big East team this year.
The selection was no surprise to Hoya fans who witnessed their star guard dominate the competition for the last two seasons. White has long been heralded as a defensive maestro. Back in high school at Milford Mill Academy in Baltimore, Md., she regularly preyed on outmatched offensive players. Mike Mohler, head coach of rival Catonsville High School, has described how difficult it was trying to score on White. “She’s totally a game-changer on defense. One of our rules is ‘if you’re handling the ball and Dionna’s on you, give it up right away,’” he said in a 2015 interview with the Baltimore Sun.
In college, she has averaged an astounding 2.9 steals per game during her two-year career and last year surpassed the second highest steals finisher in the conference by 48. White credits her coaches for her initiative on defense. “My coaches always told me to not be too laid back,” she said. “Take it any time you can.”
But White also excels on the offensive end. As a freshman, she averaged 14.5 points per game, tied for first place on the team. Last year, she increased that average to 15.2 points per game by expanding her shooting range, nearly doubling her three-point total from her first season.
While White is ready to step into the spotlight and become a nationally-recognized player, this season will surely bring its challenges as both she and her team undergo major transitions.
This offseason, Georgetown named James Howard the new women’s basketball head coach, replacing Natasha Adair, who departed for the same position at the University of Delaware after three years in charge of Georgetown’s program. White, who was close with Adair, will have to move on from a coach that had a considerable impact on her maturation as a player. Their relationship began well before White had even chosen to attend Georgetown.
“She recruited me while she was at Charleston,” said White, referencing Adair’s previous tenure at the College of Charleston. “So, when she came here it was good for me just because we were closer and I knew her.”
Their rapport extended onto the court, as White credits Adair with aiding her adjustment to the college game. “I knew how she coached and she also knew how I played,” White said. “So when I got here she kind of coached me, making my game fit towards the college level.”
This collaboration between a determined player and a nurturing coach led to two straight winning seasons. This stood in stark contrast to the team’s previous streak of three consecutive losing campaigns. White hopes to continue this improvement, but it remains to be seen how well she will gel with her new head coach.
Howard was an associate head coach for the last two seasons and, as an internal hire, he already has experience working with the players on the roster. A large part of his new job will be determining how to best utilize his star guard. Howard had high praise for White and her teammate, senior guard DiDi Burton.
“They are two young women from Baltimore that have a tough mentality,” he said. “When they come on the floor, we all know that their speed is really great, and it really helps us because they can push the ball.”
For White, transitioning to a new head coach halfway through her college career is difficult in its own right, but now she must simultaneously adapt to a new role now as an older player on the team. “I’m just trying to become more of a leader, talking a little bit more off the court, just trying to tell the rest of my teammates—the younger ones—my experience and be an example to follow,” White said. “Not necessarily talking, just leading by example.”
Despite all the potential distractions, White is keeping her mind focused on her performance this season. When asked about a weaker area of her game that she wanted to improve, White was clear.
“I want to work on just not getting in foul trouble,” she said. “We don’t have as many players as we had before, so just being able to stay on the floor and not get into foul trouble will be a big priority of my game.” Last season, she averaged 2.8 fouls per game and fouled out four times. This recognition of a specific weakness in her game demonstrates White’s maturation over the course of her Georgetown career.
White has a full understanding of the immense opportunities this season presents. She has a chance to contend for Big East Player of the Year, but she also knows not to get ahead of herself.
“It’s all about what you do during the season.”