Coby White talks life without basketball from home in North Carolina

Coby White, who was one of the hottest players in the NBA following the All-Star break, catches up with Sam Smith on life without basketball.

Coby White is one of the fortunate ones. He's healthy, sure, which is most important these days. But he's also someone who's in love and has been in love just about as long as he can remember. Which is also the difficult part. Because lately that love has been unrequited, and Coby is heartbroken.

"It's different," White was saying by telephone this weekend from his North Carolina home. "It's hard not being able to push your body to the limit. It's different for me because I've been doing that for years. And then to stop right away. You've got to find other stuff to do. For me, it's been really hard because I've always had basketball.

"Now I have to find other stuff to do to pass the time," said White. "I've never really had time for hobbies or to do other things. It's been basketball. But this gives me time to learn a lot about myself. I'm trying to find different stuff to do."

So what has he found?

"Nah," White said with a laugh. "I'm still looking."

Coby White celebrates after hitting a three.

Coby White knows he's one of the truly lucky ones because he's back home with his family, they're healthy and he's officially an NBA player, the culmination of a lifelong dream. The 20-year-old whose innocent charm and joyous enthusiasm has made him arguably Bulls fans' most popular player also, like everyone else, is remaining at home and attempting to find a substitute passion.

But everyone knows how difficult it is to get past your first love.

Many never can.

And so goes life during COVID-19 for White, the precocious Bulls rookie who made his first start as an NBA player March 10 in a Bulls home win against the Cleveland Cavaliers. White had a relatively modest game (for him since the All-Star break) with "just" 20 points, five assists and five rebounds. But as Coby grew, so did the Bulls.

White was on one of the best runs in the NBA his last nine games, basically since the All-Star break. He was averaging 26.1 points and shooting 43.2 percent on threes. In the previous six games, he also was averaging six assists. The Bulls had won two of those five with three narrow losses. Perhaps finally ballast for a foundering season with White's increased presence.

"It was exciting to get my first start because, obviously, my goal is to be a starting point guard in the NBA," White said. "So that meant a lot being my first one. I feel like after the All-Star break I got a lot more comfortable on the court with running the team and the offense, and defensively. I felt I definitely could play in this league. I felt like after the All-Star break, I could make a huge impact in the league. So I just have to keep doing what I'm doing. This first year has been good for me with the ups and downs to see what I needed to do, to go through the adversity, and then after the All-Star break."

White began to get noticed not only with the February Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month designation, but with the appreciation from his peers. Ja Morant, most likely to win Rookie of the Year, posted that fans and media should be talking about White. Future Hall of Famer Dwyane Wade posted his favorite rookies to watch were Morant, Zion Williamson and White.

"It was tough (to see the season suspended)," White admitted. "It hurts, especially after that first start of the season and the win. Though there are more important things going on. At the end of the day, you control what you can control. You can't control what is happening. So you take care of people and do what you can and listen to the professionals. I'll make sure to stay in shape and when we come back pick up where I left off and help lead the team."

Coby White collects his thoughts moments before tipoff.

It's a bright spot for the Bulls in these dark times for the world and the NBA.

Like everyone else, White was stunned to disbelief with the rapid turnaround. From running the court to running for cover, in his case an eventual return home once it was safe with his brother and constant companion Will to his family's modest home in Goldsboro, North Carolina.

"We didn't want my mom to be alone," Coby said. "The main thing is my mom lives here by herself. The way everything was looking it's looking like it's going to be a lot of time; it's going to get worse before it gets better. So me and my brother felt it was best to go home and be with our mom. I don't see my mom that much. So be with her in this tough time until things get better and we can go back to Chicago. Don't let her go through all this alone."

Goldsboro is a small manufacturing and farming area in east central North Carolina, also the home of new Chicago Bears tight end Jimmy Graham. Legendary actor Andy Griffith, who grew up in western North Carolina in another of the small towns that was the model for his famous Mayberry, taught at Goldsboro High School after college. Alec Jacoby White, who became Coby from his shortened middle name, quickly became attached to the orange ball and became the state's prep scoring leader. He had that relentless drive. On and off the court.

It's difficult to replicate these days.

Coby White shoots a three against Boston.

"Wake up, have breakfast," said Coby. "Mom cooks eggs and bacon. Later I'll make myself a sandwich. One of my favorite spots—it's probably not great for me—I'll get a sandwich from Brooklyn Pizzeria. It's one of my favorite spots (for subs), but I try to limit myself.

"I'll work out," White said. "The Bulls put together this workout schedule. Four, five days of the week and I follow that. I don't have a gym in my house. Pushups, curls, basic stuff."

Bulls strength coach Matt Johnson prepared a program for each of the players with a warm up, lateral movements, body weight strength that includes squats, lunges, pushups and hip movements. There's also movements to focus on landings with four serious conditioning sessions per week. Still, without weights and a basketball court, players aren't going to be ready very quickly.

"I've talked to Arch, Shaq, Denzel, Zach, Kris Dunn, Wendell," said White. "Just trying to keep in contact with some of the guys and see what's doing. Working out and then trying to find some TV shows to watch; just trying to be positive about everything.

"I'm watching Young Justice now on Netflix," said White. "Next it will be All-American. I've been hearing about that from people. We ended on a win and hopefully we can get back to playing and keep that going, especially pretty much everyone should be healthy. Like Kris, Chandler; Zach was coming back. I really felt we were taking some good steps and getting past the injuries, getting things going in the right direction."

It's been that way for White since he was the No. 7 selection in last year's NBA draft. There was some disappointment when the Bulls took a steep tumble in the draft lottery to No. 7. But it seems they have a winner with the composed but passionate rookie.

White was a standout even on draft night when his college teammate, Cam Johnson, was a surprise lottery selection. White's enthusiasm for Johnson's good fortune seemed even greater than for his own. White might have the skills of a scorer, but he's also got the heart of a philanthropist.

Chicago appears to have noticed with the community's devoted response.

"I guess my personality," says White. "I always tell people I love the way Chicago has accepted me because it wasn't always as good as it was after the All-Star break. But the fans and the city all seem on my side. They're watching me grow and learn and continue to progress as the season went on. It means a lot to me to be a Bull and play in Chicago."

Though the 6-4 guard played off the bench all season and was so overlooked the NBA failed to include him in the All-Star Rising Stars game even though it was in Chicago, White's potential was apparent in the way he zealously greeted the season.

Coby White scored 25 points in the second NBA game of his career.

White had 17 points in the opener in a late game loss in Charlotte. Then he scored 25 points with four of eight threes in a victory in Memphis. White willingness to attempt the shots down the stretch in both games showed a confidence and certainly vital for elite players. Though White staggered through December into January with fatigue and undulating lineups and rotations, he continued to remain positive. It's helped make him a big positive for the Bulls future.

"With me, Zach, Wendell, guys we have I feel like we were getting better and we can start jelling and string together some wins for sure when we play again," said White. "It takes some patience, for sure, but I feel we'll put in the work and that it will be interesting."

It's what you love about a player like White with that kind of love for the game. Because there's nothing you can do that can't be done. All you need is love.

White Hot: Coby White's last nine games