Jaw Dropping

Terrico White's dunking show underscores his athleticism

Cameras were rolling as Terrico White prepared for his 360 with the between-the-legs dunk.
The viral video of Terrico White’s scene-stealing role in the impromptu slam-dunk competition that broke out during this week’s rookie photo shoot, staged in conjunction with the NBA’s rookie orientation program, looked awfully familiar to me.

I’d seen the same performance, essentially, a little more than a month ago in Las Vegas. It was July 13 and the Pistons Summer League team had a day off from game competition, so they worked out for an hour or so at the practice court at Cox Pavilion on UNLV’s campus. As it was breaking up and players were milling about, gathering their bags or getting treatment from assistant strength coach Dave Boyer or grabbing a bottle of Gatorade, White started throwing down some fairly routine dunks at one end of the court.

With a backpack on.

Then he shed the backpack and went to work. For his finale, he did the 360 with the between-the-legs flourish you see at the rookie shoot that’s become an Internet sensation.

I talked to many people in Vegas about White, but after about the third person I could barely get the question out before smiling because the answer was already coming – an answer that would always start with “great athlete” or some variation thereof, perhaps substituting “unbelievable” or “incredible” for “great.”

You get a better idea of it, perhaps, in the video we’ve posted at Pistons.com because you see White doing his thing alongside some of the reputed top athletes in the 2010 draft, players like John Wall and Wesley Johnson and Paul George – and you see White clearly stealing the show.

Jaw-dropping. That’s the modifier Joe D used for White. It came that July day in Vegas, several hours after practice, and he was still chuckling about it.

“Jaw-dropping athleticism,” he said. “Did you see the dunks he was doing today after practice? Between the legs and spin? I said, you’ve got to be kidding me, man. I mean, jaw-dropping athleticism.”

In separate conversations, both assistant coach Pat Sullivan and player development coach Steve Hetzel called it “off-the-charts athleticism.” All three rookies from last season – Austin Daye, Jonas Jerebko and DaJuan Summers, guys who’ve seen a few athletes in their year in the NBA and elsewhere – separately led their impressions of White with “great athlete” or “unbelievable athlete.” John Kuester chose “explosive athlete.” And on and on it went.

The Pistons know, of course, that track-and-field athleticism doesn’t necessarily equate to outstanding basketball ability. They think Greg Monroe possesses athleticism that translates very well to basketball, but they acknowledge he isn’t a classically explosive athlete – and don’t think that will affect his ability to immediately upgrade their frontcourt.

So the inverse holds for White: He needs to show he can translate his athleticism – White was a three-year starter at quarterback in high school chased by SEC schools who saw an NFL-caliber wide receiver within him, a baseball pitcher with a 90-plus-mph fastball, and a 6-foot-6 high jumper in basketball shoes at his first try without any concept of technique – to the basketball court.

“It does (translate), but the athleticism has to continue,” Pistons strength coach Arnie Kander told me last week. “That athleticism has to become endurantly strong. A guy can have a 42-inch vertical, but what does that mean? Because most rebounds aren’t grabbed 42 inches off the ground. But can you get that 31-inch rebound, take it and go down the floor?”

Kander has had very little time with White and really hasn’t begun to work with him yet. White and Monroe were required to be at the rookie orientation session in the New York area this week, but they’ll both be back at the practice facility starting Monday with more than a month to go before training camp opens.

“We’ll get to know all of that. I’ve only had him for a couple of days,” Kander said. “He came in and I’ve just talked to him for a bit. I’ve heard all good things about him. From my conversation with him when he was here, he seemed like a really nice guy – a guy eager to get going.

“That’s all you can ask for. If a guy is willing to hear you, accept it, take it on and then make it his own and then come up with his own creative flair, that’s what you want.”

As his scene-stealing dunking exhibitions suggests, Terrico White should have no problem adding his own creative flair.