I can think of few stories in sports more depressing than that of Decensae White, the former Texas Tech basketball player who, it was learned on Friday, was arrested on a murder charge last month in California. White, 25, was extradited to Georgia last week and is due in court May 31 to face charges he was part of a murder plot in which a rapper was killed in a drive-by shooting.
This story also involves hit men, drug money and the Russian mob. White’s alleged involvement in all of this is unclear at this point. But wow.
Seven years ago this would have been unthinkable. White has a comfortable, blue collar background: he was raised in Pacifica, CA, a Northern California coastal community that’s basically a suburb of San Francisco. He attended Serra High School, a private Catholic school that also produced Tom Brady and Barry Bonds. He had a stellar basketball career at Serra — one of the best players in school history. Serra’s second all-time leading scorer, White was the 2006 West Catholic Athletic League Player of the Year, 2006 San Mateo County Player of the Year, and led Serra to the California Div. I state championship game his junior season. He seemed destined for greatness.
White’s father, a huge Bobby Knight fan, practically raised his son from the get-go to play for Indiana University. When Knight moved on to Texas Tech, he recruited White, who played for the Red Raiders for one-plus seasons — appearing in 12 games and averaging about 5 points per game. (He was college roommates with Michael Crabtree).
But personalities clashed. White was ultimately unsuited for Knight’s basketball bootcamp program, and left two games into his sophomore season. He transferred to Santa Clara University for the 2008-09 season. But after one year there he left school, and took a three-year hiatus from basketball.
He came back last year to play at his dad’s alma mater, San Francisco State, a Div. II school.
Head coach Paul Trevor said at the time:
“He is one of the hardest working players this program has had. He has grown up, he is a role model basketball player, the kind of guy you want in front of your team,” Trevor said. “It’s not even his talent that is most valuable to us, it’s his ability to lead. He is what you want out of a basketball player.”
No one’s quite sure when it all seemingly spun out of control. But the details, if true, are amazingly grim.
Decensae White, 25, is due in court May 31 and was being held in Fulton County jail Friday, Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Tracy Flanagan said.
White and four others, including a Russian mobster, are charged in the July 7, 2012, slaying of Melvin Vernell III, who rapped under the name Lil Phat, according to the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office. Vernell, 19, was gunned down by two men at a hospital in Sandy Springs, which is about an hour north of Atlanta, as his girlfriend was preparing to give birth.
Prosecutors believe the suspects were “business associates” and conspired to hire hitmen to kill Vernell. They were allegedly motivated by drugs and other business dealings.
It wasn’t clear what role prosecutors believe White played in the slaying. Neither Sandy Springs police or White’s family responded to requests for comment Friday.
White has a 17-month-old son and was planning to get married.