During a routine staff meeting before the 2016-17 season began, Colorado coach Tad Boyle’s assistant coaches presented an idea they’d previously only discussed among themselves. Boyle was immediately receptive, because he’d already been thinking the same thing.
It didn’t take Boyle and his staff long to figure out what so many NCAA Division I coaches—351 of them to be exact—had missed about Derrick White when he played high school and AAU basketball in his hometown of Parker, Colo. By the time Boyle got to coach White, the 6-5 wing had already played three seasons at Division II Colorado-Colorado Springs, where in his junior year he earned All-American honors after averaging a stat-sheet stretching 25.8 points, 7.4 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 2.4 steals and 2.1 blocked shots.
White, overlooked by DI schools because of his size—somewhere in the vicinity of six feet after his senior season of high school basketball—took the only four-year scholarship offer he had. And UCCS got an unexpected bonus.
During the summer before his freshman season, White grew five inches, dramatically altering his game, and his possibilities. UCCS gave him the opportunity to develop and showcase his skills.
After his All-American season, White decided he wanted to test his long-held belief that he could ring up the same kind of statistics against the best Division I schools in the country.
Because some of his former AAU teammates played for Colorado, White visited the campus, decided it was a great fit for him, too, and bade Division II ball a fond farewell. He spent the 2015-16 season as a redshirt, learning Boyle’s system and getting stronger.
By the time White was eligible again, the Colorado coaches knew they had a multi-talented player on their hands. But how best to utilize him? After a month of preseason practice, the answer became clear.
“He had never played point guard,” Boyle said. “He’d played on the wing, because he’s a scorer; that’s kind of how he’s wired. He’s got point guard skills, but he’d never played there. So we made a decision: He’s our best player, our best ball handler, our best passer and our best decision maker. We needed to get the ball in this guy’s hands as much as possible.”
Colorado associate head coach Jean Prioleau has told this story to many NBA scouts since the game Boyle thinks was White’s unofficial proclamation he had next-level potential—a 31-point, six-rebound, five-assist game Arizona in the Pac-12 tournament.
White’s first game against the perennial Pac-12 power hadn’t gone so well. On Jan. 7 at Arizona, White managed just seven points, three boards and three assists.
What happened between those two Arizona games? White just delivered on the promise Colorado coaches saw last fall. He became a scoring point guard.
“During [preseason] practice, you’re trying to get a feel for your team,” Prioleau said. “We keep stats, a lot of stats, in our practices, and we watch film. And as a staff, we kind of threw it out there that Derrick could probably play the point.
And he’s got a chip on his shoulder, but not in a negative way. It’s just a ‘I’d love to prove you wrong’ type thing.
“Coach started playing him there little by little; we all knew it was better to keep the ball in his hands as much as possible. Derrick doesn’t turn the ball over, and we like to run a lot of pick and rolls. Derrick was making the reads that needed to be made. It was a groundswell that eventually turned into, ‘yeah, we’re basically playing through him.’ And everyone on our team benefitted from that happening.”
White’s final numbers reflected the versatility he showed at Colorado-Colorado Springs: 18.1 points, 4.1 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.4 blocks and 1.2 steals a game. White’s assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.8-1 was not bad for a guy playing point for the first time. And the extra responsibility didn’t hamper what came naturally—White shot .507 from the field, .396 from 3-point range and .813 from the free-throw line.
In hindsight, it seems incredible a player of White’s gifts had been passed on by Division I schools.
“I’m an old investment guy,” Boyle said. “[Recruiting] is not an efficient market. But there are outliers out there. In basketball, you find a guy like Derrick White, and you strike gold. A lot of it has to do with his work ethic. And he’s got a chip on his shoulder, but not in a negative way. It’s just a ‘I’d love to prove you wrong’ type thing.”
In fairness to the coaches that missed on White, that growth spurt changed his outlook considerably.
“I’m sure it was because of my size [that Division I schools overlooked him],” White said. “There are a lot of good players that don’t get recruited, for a lot of reasons. Maybe they’re a couple inches too short, or a step too slow. But my size was the biggest thing holding me back.”
Those extra five inches made all the difference. White always had perimeter skills. The added size gave him the ability to post up smaller defenders, rebound and defend bigger wings. That was true at the Division II level, and it carried over to the Pac-12, a competitive league that sends numerous players to the NBA. Boyle saw enough to think White will join their ranks.
“I think he can play the one at the next level,” Boyle said. “He can play on or off the ball. And more importantly for the NBA, he can guard multiple positions. He’s got length, athleticism, jumping ability. He’s going to get stronger. He’s going to become a more consistent shooter.
“Those are things that happened throughout his high school and college career. And they’ll continue to happen in the NBA.”
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