New Haven’s Jalanni White happy with transfer from Canisius to Penn State: ‘So far, it’s been fun’

Photo of David Borges

Jalanni White had put the finishing touches on a solid, four-year career at Canisius last March when he realized he wasn’t quite ready for his collegiate career to end.

Taking advantage of an extra year of eligibility afforded to players due to the pandemic, White entered his name into the NCAA transfer portal and heard from a few schools. Among them: Idaho, Grand Canyon and UMBC. All tempting, but none with the allure of the program he’d hear from over the summer.

When Penn State called and expressed interest in White, the New Haven product’s mind was quickly made up.

“It was a new staff, they were looking for experienced players to join the team so we could become a winning team,” White recalled. “For me, it was an easy decision.”

White, a 6-foot-8, 205-pound forward who once starred at Notre Dame-West Haven, certainly hasn’t regretted the choice.

“So far, it’s been fun,” he said last week. “The environment is way different from Canisius, so it’s been a great experience so far.”

White has transferred to a school with about 3,000 students to one with over 40,000. From a team that plays in the MAA= (alongside Quinnipiac and Fairfield, among others) to one that competes in the Big Ten, against nationally-ranked squads like Purdue, Michigan State and Illinois.

“I think any competitor would like to see what they can do at the highest level of college basketball,” White noted. “Everybody’s stronger, everybody’s faster, everybody’s smarter. You’ve really got to play hard when you’re out there, give it your all for 40 minutes.”

He’s also gone from a school that no longer has a football program, to one around whose entire identity practically revolves around football. And yes, White has attended a few games at 106,000-capacity Beaver Stadium.

“They’re a lot of fun,” he reported. “There are crazy people all over the place, the stadium is always packed with people.”

For White, the biggest difference between playing in the MAAC and the Big Ten has been the travel niceties. Chartered flights certainly beat long bus trips through northern New York state.

The biggest highlight so far?

“The crowds of the Big Ten, and the energy they bring to games,” White said.

White, who along with Tremont Waters helped lead Notre Dame-West Haven to its first undefeated season (22-0) in 2016-17, was never a star at Canisius. After playing sparingly as a freshman, he started all 32 games as a sophomore, averaging 5.9 points per game, and was named to the 2019 MAAC All-Championship Team after averaging 13.5 points in two games.

White averaged a career-best 7.0 ppg as a junior mostly off the bench, and while he started all 11 games for the Griffs last season, averaged just 3.9 points and 2.2 rebounds per contest.

Predictably, White has primarily been a role player off the bench for first-year Penn State coach Micah Shrewsberry. But his role has been gradually increasing since the start of Big Ten play. White played 21 minutes off the bench against Indiana on Jan. 2 and 19 minutes against Northwestern three days later, grabbing a season-high seven rebounds.

He scored a season-best nine points on a perfect 4-for-4 shooting (including a 3-pointer) in a close, Jan. 8 loss to seventh-ranked Purdue. He’s bodied up against some of the top players in the country: Purdue’s Trevion Williams, Ohio State’s E.J. Liddell, Indiana’s Trayce Jackso-Davis. And in the Big Ten, it never stops: Iowa’s Keegan Murray, Michigan’s Hunter Dickinson and Illinois’s Kofe Cockburn are among those who remain on the schedule.

The Nittany Lions are 8-7 overall and 3-4 in the league, but have been competitive in most of their games, including a five-point loss at No. 16 Ohio State on Sunday.

After this season, White would like to play professionally somewhere. But first things first.

“If we listen to what Coach Shrews tells us and play hard,” White predicted, “I think we can be a tournament team.”

Either way, Jalanni White, the competitor, certainly made the right choice on where to extend his college basketball career one more season.

OUR AP TOP 25 BALLOT THIS WEEK

Always fun to fill out our AP Top 25 ballot after a week of havoc among ranked teams. No. 1 Baylor lost twice, at home. UCLA and Michigan State also lost home games. We could go on and on.

Our choice for No. 1 came down to Gonzaga (our No. 2 last week), Arizona (No. 4) and Auburn (No. 9). We sided with the Zags, who boast wins over UCLA, Texas Tech and Texas, with their only losses to Duke and Alabama. Arizona has a win at Illinois and over Colorado. Its lone loss is to Tennessee.

Auburn? Wins over LSU and at Alabama are nice. The lone loss? UConn in the Bahamas.

1. Gonzaga: I’ll trade you two Chet Holmgren cards for a Ken Griffey Jr. rookie

2. Auburn: One UConn loss away from Bruce Pearl’s first No. 1 team since 2008?

3. Arizona: It’s fun to watch (and say) Bennedict Mathurin.

4. Duke: Someone remind me if this is Coach K’s final season? I keep forgetting.

5. Purdue: Huge showdown vs. Illinois Monday at noon.

6. Kansas: Perhaps the pride of the Big 12 again?

7. Wisconsin: Could ex-Cincinnati 7-footer Chris Vogt have transferred anywhere else?

8. UCLA: Home loss (sans fans) to Oregon on Friday night.

9. Baylor: Looked awful in home losses to Texas Tech, Oklahoma State.

10. Villanova: Win over Butler Sunday was practically Sacred Heart Academy-Lyman Hall worthy.

11. Houston: Why can’t UConn get players like AAC Player of Week Josh Carlton ...?

12. Michigan State: UConn in Bahamas may be Sparty’s best victory to date.

13. Xavier: Why do we seem to like the Musketeers more than any other voters?

14. Illinois: Kofi Cockburn is starting to look Top 5-pick worthy again.

15. Kentucky: Oscar Tshiebwe is averaging nearly 15 rebounds per game. Wow.

16. LSU: Home loss to Arkansas Saturday was a “strong-(bleep) loss.”

17. Ohio State: Narrow win over Jalanni White’s Nittany Lions on Sunday.

18. Providence: Man, The Dunk would’ve been fun on Saturday.

19. Texas Tech: Even loss at Kansas State can’t offset wins at Baylor, vs. Kansas.

20. USC: Like UCLA, also knocked off at home this weekend by resurgent Oregon.

21. Davidson: Thirteen straight wins, including over Alabama in Birmingham. Works for me.

22. Loyola Chicago: Love Ramblers scheduling and beating USF in impromptu game.

23. Iowa State: Currently 14-3; went 2-22 last season. Remarkable.

24. UConn: That win over Auburn is as good as any this season.

25. San Diego State: On COVID pause, following 30-point drubbing of 13-1 Colorado State.

david.borges@hearstmediact.com