At home on the court

Basketball: The game has helped guide Aaron Rei-White through troubled times, and he's helped guide Mount Hebron to a 7-1 mark.

High Schools

January 28, 2003|By Rick Belz | Rick Belz,SUN STAFF

Aaron Rei-White's old neighborhood is a place the Mount Hebron point guard would like to forget.

But he can't.

It was the impoverished, survival-of-the-fittest inner city of Portland, Ore.

"I was surrounded by Bloods and Crips, [gang members], crackheads and hustlers," Rei-White said. "It was an all-black community and I was this skinny, white, redheaded boy whose salvation was basketball. I used to dribble all day. And I got picked in pickup games because I could handle the rock, but you had to prove yourself every day both on and off the court. I always got this `You don't look like you can play' look."

He still gets that look sometimes, because the lanky, 6-foot senior, who moved to Ellicott City before his junior year, weighs only 140 pounds.

But his coach, Mike Linsenmeyer, calls Rei-White "a gifted athlete - definitely the best player on the team."

That team (9-3 overall, 7-1 Howard County) has stunned nearly everyone after going 11-11 last season, then losing three of its top players, John Zabel (graduation), Marcus Nicks (transfer) and Blake Jarrett (ineligible).

Lightly regarded in preseason assessments, the Vikings at midseason are an upset win away from being a half-game behind league-leading, No. 11 Long Reach.

Mount Hebron plays host to Long Reach (13-0, 9-0) tomorrow. Long Reach won the initial meeting between the teams, 73-60, but trailed after the first quarter.

Rei-White's on-court maturation has been a key to the Vikings' success with his 16-point, four-rebound and five-assist averages.

"A year ago, I had to discipline him every game," Linsenmeyer said. "He had never played much organized basketball, and he didn't understand the team concept. He could possibly score 27 points per game, but we wouldn't win many games. Now, he's controlling his temper, is more of a leader and is a real all-around point guard. He's also taking his health a lot more seriously, improving his diet and lifting weights. He's grown up a lot, and a lot of people are looking out for him and are proud of him."

Linsenmeyer says Rei-White's ability to penetrate and rebound are two of his best skills.

"He's deceptive as far as how athletic he is. But I wouldn't want to have to guard him," Linsenmeyer said. "He's a load."

Rei-White, 18, also has matured off the court.

"He used to say basketball is what kept him in school," Linsenmeyer said. "Now, he realizes that school is as important as basketball."

Rei-White has a 2.71 grade point average and hopes to attend a community college.

His growth is not complete, however.

He lives with the family of teammate Drew Myers, rather than his mother, sister and family that includes two stepbrothers and a stepsister.

When his mother remarried and relocated to Ellicott City from Oregon, Rei-White experienced some culture shock at moving into a suburban, tree-lined, middle-class neighborhood.

"I grew up poor, so when we moved to Waverly Woods it was the greatest thing I ever saw," said Rei-White. "You could walk down the street at 3 a.m. with no problems."

But, as with many teen-agers, the relationship between his mother and him is rocky.

"When I had problems at home, Coach would call up and talk to my parents," Rei-White said. "He's helped me out a lot, and I've tried to get my act together better. My mother comes to all the games and supports me. It's just better if I'm not at home."

His mother explained why Rei-White is not at home. "It's just teen-age rebellion," Jackie Rei Janesh said. "He's always exhibited a gift for basketball, and all his family loves to watch him play and would like to see him succeed further. My father played basketball, and my family was very enthusiastic about the game. In Portland, we only had one professional sports team - basketball."

Myers, a senior playing his first season for Mount Hebron after transferring from River Hill, has bonded with Rei-White.

"He [Rei-White] was here [Myers' house] all the time anyway," Myers said. "The only difference is that now he sleeps over."

Myers said the team is hang-out-on-weekends close, and the players have awaited this opportunity to prove themselves.

"Without Aaron, we'd be disorganized," Myers said. "We're so confident he can handle the ball. I can't remember one time he's gotten the ball stolen from him dribbling downcourt to set up a play."

He said that Rei-White is "real committed" to basketball.

"He gets to practice an hour ahead of time and stays an hour after, and shoots or sets up obstacle courses with trash cans that he dribbles around with one arm behind his back," Myers said. "He's a smart player."

Rei-White, who has had surgeries to remove a bone growth from his leg (two years ago) and another from his right elbow (last year), doesn't want anything to hold the team back from achieving its full potential.

"My problems used to eat me up inside, but now I try to use them to make me stronger," he said. "I want my team to go so far. The sky is the limit."

He likes the feeling when the pressure is on during close games - like what he experienced playing for an Amateur Athletic Union team (Maryland Hoops) last spring.

"I don't want to let that feeling go," he said.

Said Linsenmeyer: "He just wants to play more than anything in the world."

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