Coby White discusses shoulder rehab, excitement for Bulls new additions

Coby White is like that guy in the Cast Away movie who seemed to have everything going for him and then encountered adversity and disappeared. And while he was away he was forgotten, his girl friend getting married and having children and his company moving on.

So the Bulls gifted scoring point guard who finished last season with an excellent run suffered a severe shoulder injury last June. While he was away the Bulls drafted a point guard, acquired the top free agent starting and reserve point guards and the San Antonio Spurs assists leader last season and resigned another point guard from last season's big trade deadline additions.

If personally disappointing, it's perhaps a good life lesson for everyone.

You're unique. You know, like everyone else.

"Life ain't perfect, bro," White philosophized to reporters Tuesday at the Advocate Center after the first practice of training camp. "You gotta work for stuff. Like I always say since I got here Day 1, I'm just gonna compete, and find my role and whatever that role may be I'm gonna play it to the fullest. 

 "I can't define my role because I haven't been able to get on the court with the (new) guys yet," said White. "It's a whole new team. So whatever role they have me at, that's the role I'm gonna play to the best of my abilities to help the team win."

Mark Twain once said to always do or say the right thing. Because it will gratify some people. And astonish the rest.

The players always say they are about winning. Coby White appears to mean it more than most. Because he couldn't have seemed happier about the Bulls acquisitions of both Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso.

The two players who may take most of his playing time. With attitudes like White has, the Bulls may have more going for them than even the most optimistic among us imagined.

"It was dope," White said about the acquisition of Ball, his putative replacement. "Lonzo's gonna really help the team as a major piece. He's so unselfish. And as a point guard, he's great defensively which is one thing that I can get from him. So looking forward to this year. I'm excited he's here and it's gonna be a good year for both of us."

Coby White and Lonzo Ball pose during a Bulls Media Day photoshoot

Then asked about Caruso, who may take the Sixth Man role that discharged starters often acquire, White said he expected to learn "a lot (from Caruso). Caruso got a championship, too. So he's been to the Finals and he knows what it takes to get there and what type of team we have to be. So I think the whole team can learn a lot from Caruso; not just me."

To paraphrase Kipling, which I often do on Wednesdays, you're a better man than I am, Coby White.

The third year of a rookie contract is a big one for NBA players, the first chance to play for a contract extension. And it seemed like the No. 7 overall Bulls draft pick in 2019 was finally figuring it out. After going to the bench last March, White came back for the longest sustained starting run of his youthful NBA career.

In 18 games to close the 2020-21 season replacing Tomas Satoransky—who had replaced him about a month earlier—White averaged 17.6 points and 5.9 assists while shooting 40 percent on threes. He shot more efficiently and was more stable with the ball, averaging a respectable 2.5-to-one assists/turnover ratio. If the Bulls weren't certain they had their point guard of the future, White was at least in the conversation.

Then he suffered a torn labrum playing pickup ball back home in North Carolina and had surgery. It was estimated at a four to six months recovery. 
 "I was playing with my boys back home and I got hit in my shoulder," White explained. "I had gotten hit there before and I kinda felt similar stuff. And after a day or two it just wasn't feeling right. So I wound up coming back here and getting an MRI and it showed that I tore my labrum. I had gotten hit the same way before and it kinda just went away. But this time the pain really didn't go away. So I was like something must be really wrong with my shoulder." 
 Your first reaction? 
 "Uh, what is a labrum?" White said with a laugh

"I had never really heard of it," White admitted. "Dr. (Brian) Cole did a good job of explaining to me what it was and what the process was gonna be like. At that point there's not too much you can do about it. I just kinda took it in stride and continued to just attack rehab. That's all I really could do. Couldn't control nothing else. It wasn't what I planned for, but it is what it is. I had a good summer here (in Chicago). The Bulls' staff did a good job of continuing to do a good job of rehabbing my shoulder. They made it fun for me coming in every day. 
 "I'm able to do pretty much everything on a basketball court (now)," White said. "I just struggle with left hand, overhead shots. Right now I've just been working on strengthening my shoulder and getting it stronger because I (haven't) used it for a long time."

And still won't for awhile as Bulls coach Billy Donovan said White isn't close to engaging in contact drills. His target date for a return remains sometime in November, perhaps a month into the season.

So life goes on for the Bulls and the NBA.

Though with the attitude that the 6-5 guard has, the beneficiary should be the Bulls with not only White's scoring potential off the bench but his commitment to the team.

Coby White rises up for a dunk over Charlotte during the 2020-21 season.

"I say this about him, he's got an internal will and an internal drive. I think that's his greatest strength mentally, the way he can handle those kinds of situations," marveled Donovan. "Coby has alway been a really good team guy. The biggest thing with Coby is ‘Hey, however I can fit in and help the group and help the team, I'm going to do it.' I think he's got enough confidence and belief in himself that there will be a role for him that he can play and fulfill and be an important piece and ingredient to our team. I know our entire staff and organization loves him as a player. But when you have a chance to add players to the roster and improve the roster, inevitably, sometimes those players come in many different positions and impact many different guys. There's not a lot of guys in this league that shoot the ball the way he does. I still think there is a role and place for him to be a really good player for us."

It would appear, at least once the team gets healthy, which is a phrase that's been sadly used a lot in recent years for the Bulls, White could fit well as the offensive spark plug for a mostly scoring challenged defensive second unit led by Caruso. Players have prospered in those roles in recent years, like Lou Williams, Manu Ginobili and Jamal Crawford. Though no lottery pick comes into the NBA hoping to be the next Jordan Clarkson. But those players have proven valuable to good teams.

And the Bulls may finally have one with frontline scorers like Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic.

Which continues a roller coaster for the 21-year-old White.

He was the highly touted rookie draft pick in 2019 who after a choppy start and varying responsibilities emerged after the All-Star break to score more than 30 points off the bench in three consecutive games and average 26.9 in eight games. Then he got the first start of his career and scored 20 points in a Bulls win. Then the league shut down for Covid the next day. White wasn't directly responsible.

White began last year's delayed season as the starter. But in 36 games, he didn't shoot well trying to force feed himself a facilitating role and was replaced by Satoransky March 14. In 15 games off the bench, White averaged about 10 points and shot 27 percent on threes as the Bulls went through auditions for the new players. But when Donovan returned White to the starting lineup April 16, he seemed like a different player. He shot better, ran the team well and was confident in his role. Had the Bulls found their quarterback?

But then came the injury, the draft and recruitment of Ball and Caruso, and it's still uncertain what's ahead for White. After all, just about every player from his Bulls rebuilding class has been scattered around the NBA. But White remain more determined than deterred.

"It was frustrating, but the good part was it wasn't during the season," said White about the injury. "The way it happened (it) shouldn't have happened that easily. So, I guess, prior to it my shoulder was already kind of iffy. But if it was bound to happen, I'd rather it happen when it happened rather than during the season. So now I only miss a little bit of the first part of the season. 
 "This was a mentally challenging process for me," White admits. "So me growing mentally and watching a lot of film, that's all I really could do. Now I'm just starting getting back on the court. I've never been out this long for basketball. So it's focusing on getting my shoulder strong and just finding a rhythm on the basketball court. We've got a whole new team of guys. We had a big free agency; guys obviously wanted to come here so. We're trying to win over here. I think guys are starting to realize that and, you know, who wouldn't want to play for the Chicago Bulls in this sports city? It's gonna be fun."

Those are the kinds of guys who are keepers.