March 18, 2003

By OWEN CANFIELD
AP Sports Writer

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) - Like most coaches, Oklahoma's Kelvin Sampson has a few concerns about his basketball team as the NCAA tournament begins.

The play of Quannas White is not one of them.

White, a senior point guard, has been steady all season, providing a perfect complement to fellow guard Hollis Price.

Their partnership is a big reason the Sooners (24-6) are the No. 1 seed in the NCAA East regional, which begins Thursday in Oklahoma City, just 20 miles from the Sooners' campus. They play South Carolina State (20-10).

"Hollis is our best player," Sampson said Tuesday. "Quannas is our most valuable player."

And at times one of its most overlooked. While Price has averaged 19.5 points and provided fiery leadership, White has quietly taken care of the basketball, set up his teammates and played strong defense.

Price was the Big 12 player of the year and a first-team all-conference selection for the second straight year. White didn't even make the third team, which puzzled his coach.

"People want a scorer, the guy with all the bells and the whistles and the do-dads and the amenities and the aesthetic beauty," Sampson said. "Quannas just has a sledgehammer. He just beats you. He wins."

Without White, Oklahoma would be in the same situation as Pittsburgh without Brandin Knight, Texas without T.J. Ford or Kansas without Kirk Hinrich, Sampson says.

White was sitting next to his coach as Sampson made the comparison.

"Me being mentioned with those guys, that doesn't hype me up or anything because I know I'm up there with them," White said. "It's great to be mentioned with the best players in the nation because I believe that I am one of the best point guards in the nation, or THE best."

White came to Oklahoma last year from Midland Community College in Texas. He was drawn to the Sooners in part because of Price, his high school teammate, and the pairing has been outstanding.

White started 33 of Oklahoma's 36 games last year, when the Sooners reached the Final Four for the first time since 1988. He played the second-most minutes on the team, behind Price, averaging 4.7 assists and just 1.8 turnovers.

This season, White has a nearly 3-to-1 ratio of assists to turnovers. He averages 8.9 points but has shown the ability to score when needed.

He had a career-high 23 points and eight rebounds in a victory at Texas Tech and scored 19 in a win over Kansas. He scored only three points in a rout of Nebraska, but had 10 assists.

White scored 19, 11 and 10 points as Oklahoma won the Big 12 tournament, and in the past 10 games he is shooting 60 percent from 3-point range (27-of-45). That's important because the Sooners rely on their perimeter game.

"Quannas always does what you need to do," Sampson said. "That's the mark of a good player."

When coaches finish playing Oklahoma, they usually mention Price and White, in that order. Price has scored in double figures in every game but one and has excelled despite a slump by Ebi Ere, the team's second-leading scorer.

"It's probably harder to get more attention because of me and probably because of Ebi," Price said. "But Quannas is a guy that doesn't really let anything get involved with how he plays. He really doesn't worry about all the media attention or anything. He just goes out and plays hard."