From the beginning of his collegiate career at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs to his sole season at the University of Colorado, Derrick White has proven that there’s little he can’t do. Now he’ll get a crack at showcasing those skills in the NBA with the San Antonio Spurs.
Coming out of Legend High School in Parker, Colo., nobody in Division I basketball even batted an eye White’s way. He was undersized and needed to work out some kinks in his game, but he never shied away from hard work.
“We didn’t foresee this happening or anything [back then],” his father, Richard, said of his son’s rise to first-round draft pick. “We were just hoping someone would give him an opportunity to play. That’s all you can hope for as a parent.”
Back then, all his parents could really hope for was a shot.
“We just wanted him to have a chance to play at college, and this was the furthest thing from our minds at the time,” his mother, Colleen, said. “We just wanted him to enjoy college and I thought having basketball would be a nice motivator for him, and of course he wanted to play too.”
Fast forward five years, to draft night 2017. White had worked out for 13 teams around the league leading up to the big night, and it was all coming to fruition. Then, he got a call.
“He got a call from his agent, Mike [Lindeman], and Mike said he was kind of counting it down from 20, like ‘Oh you’re not going there, you’re not going there,’” Richard said. “Mike knew who was going 28 and 30, and then he called and asked if he was sitting down. [Derrick] said, ‘yes,’ and he said, ‘The Spurs are going to pick you at 29.’
“So that’s why you see on that one video, he got off the phone, he kind of puts the phone to his mouth, and a big smile breaks out. He knew he was going to get picked. We kind of thought that that’s what that meant, but until we saw the little name thing under Adam Silver … we wanted to make sure we actually heard Adam Silver say, ‘With the 29th pick, San Antonio selects Derrick White.’”
Although the draft was a few days ago, Derrick is still coming down from the high as he heads to San Antonio to get to work.
“It was a crazy, surreal moment. I was just excited to get the call and I’m excited to get out there,” Derrick said. “I didn’t really care [where I went]. I just wanted to go somewhere that would help me develop as a player. I feel like the Spurs are one of the top organizations in professional sports, so I’m excited to get out there.”
From underdog to dark horse, Derrick is living proof that if you work hard enough, you can, in fact, achieve your dreams. He is the American dream, embodied.
“Hard work actually pays off, and he went to a team that’s a great fit,” Richard said. “He could have gone to some other teams and not nearly had enough of a culture, environment or opportunity. Hopefully it’s a good fit. They have good training facilities, shooting coaches, and [Gregg] Popovich is probably the best coach in the league. You can’t ask for anything more than that.”
Given the proximity to a friend and just the West in general, his mom was elated with how the selection turned out.
“We knew that when he was in San Antonio, and one of his UCCS teammates’ parents live down there, so we kind of thought it would be cool if he went down there, to know people and have kind of a home base he could go to if he needed to,” Colleen said. “Just knowing a little bit of this program from them playing the Nuggets so much, we always knew they were respected and thought that would be an awesome fit for him, just because he’ll do whatever you want him to do. I think he’s such a student of the game that that would have been a good step for him. The fact that it happened, of course, felt like a fairy tale.”
Derrick, now in San Antonio, will have the task of picking his official team number prior to heading to Utah and Las Vegas for Summer League. Right now, he’s thinking No. 4 will be the best fit for him, but he’s open to a few other options.
“Summer league is an important thing, and I’m excited to go out there and show what I can do,” Derrick said. He added that he wants to work towards becoming “a consistent shooter, be a consistent defender and compete and just try to buy into the system as quickly as possible and learn as much as possible.”
Although Derrick said he looks forward to learning from all of his new teammates, there are a few players he looks forward to playing alongside a little more.
“I’m excited about everybody there, but Kawhi [Leonard], it would be cool to play with him, Pau [Gasol], and the whole team,” Derrick said.
Richard, for his part, thinks that Mr. Leonard is a shining example of what could be to come of Derrick’s NBA career, possibly.
“Kawhi wasn’t Kawhi when he got drafted; he got picked 15th and people were like, ‘Why is he going to the Spurs? Who is he?’ And now [Monday night], they got the NBA awards, and Kawhi is the top three for MVP,” Richard said. “Kawhi didn’t have the best of shots when he got there, but he worked hard with the San Antonio coaches and the training staff, and now he’s one of the best offensive and defensive players in the game. If Derrick patterned his routine and stuff after Kawhi in being a two-way player, that will help the Spurs be an even better team, if you have multiple two-way guys out there.”
The versatility shouldn’t be a problem for Derrick at the next level, because from the moment he started playing the game back in the day, he’s been very coachable in ever sense of the word, and a completely unselfish teammate. Colleen thinks that while that trait may have, in some way, hindered his career in college, it will help him excel at the next level.
“Definitely [unselfish], probably even to a fault,” Colleen said. “We thought that he probably could have taken over games in there, but he’s trying to be a good guy and everything. He maybe would have gotten more attention if he had been a little more selfish. I think that’s just his personality. He’s just a good guy and he wants people to like him and wants to be that team guy.”
Derrick started from the bottom, now he’s here.