Derrick White has visited the Pepsi Center rooting on his favorite NBA team, the Denver Nuggets, many times as a fan, but on Tuesday night, he visited the arena for the first time as an opponent of the team he grew up a fan of.
“I was a big Nuggets’ fan growing up because I’m a Colorado guy,” said White when referring to his loyalty to his state. “Whether it was the Nuggets, Broncos or Rockies I’ve been to a lot of games, but this one feels a bit different.”
Derrick grew up just thirty minutes away from the Pepsi Center in the Denver suburb of Parker and said the Carmelo Anthony Nuggets-era is what made him get into basketball. He’s a Colorado native with quite the basketball journey.
Derrick was not a highly-recruited player coming out of high school due to his size — he was a slight six-foot-tall and 150-pound senior without much athleticism. In fact, he didn’t make the top team his eighth-grade year, but he used that as motivation and headed into high school with a chip on his shoulder. At Legend High School, he averaged 17.1 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game and took the only scholarship he was offered, a partial-scholarship that included only room and board at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs his freshman year with a damp outlook on the future. While in Colorado Springs, he blossomed — both physically and mentally — and by the time he left the school he had grown five full inches.
With his newfound athleticism and size, things turned around for him and he slowly began to develop into the player he is today.
He was a two-time All-American at UCCS and led the school to the 2015 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Tournament championship. He still holds career records at the school in assists and steals and is second in scoring which led to him being the first UCCS player ever to be selected in the NBA draft.
He then transferred to the University of Colorado in Boulder for his senior season and earned All-Pac-12 honors as he led Colorado with 18.1 points, 4.4 assists and 1.2 steals per game while shooting 51 percent from the field. Off of that season alone, he catapulted to seventh on the Buffaloe’s record books for single-season scoring in just one season.
White did have a pre-draft workout with the Nuggets on their practice court, but not the main floor. He said it was his first time playing here since his senior year of high school, a memory he’ll forever remember.
“I played here once before,” White said. “I was in an All-Star game called ‘The Show’ and that was a fun experience for me, so this, this means a lot to come back and play in front of my family and friends.”
In his rookie season, he’s not yet part of the regular rotation for San Antonio as he averages only 2.5 points in just 7.5 minutes of action each night, but that didn’t stop often angry and legendary Spurs’ head coach Gregg Popovich from having some kind words to say about his rookie.
“He’s a new kid in the system and he’s learning every day,” Popovich declared before giving his infamous blank and stern stare. “He’s doing great.”
He didn’t play much and it took all the way until the 4th quarter to enter the game, but with 11:14 remaining in regulation, a loud ovation from the many family and friends scattered across the Pepsi Center erupted. The 29th overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft and former UCCS/CU standout guard was finally getting to play. His first stint was brief, but with the game out of hand he re-entered the game. With 33 seconds left in the game there was only enough time for one shot. With his only shot on the night, Derrick had to take it. He knocked down a 16-foot mid-range jumper to close out a memorable night in his hometown.
“It was just great to go out there in front of my people and play,” said White.
Although Derrick lost to his once-favorite team 109-117, it wasn’t much that could keep him down. His last remarks before continuing his journey were the following:
“It just felt good to be home.”