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On the edge of a dream: UNC’s White prepares for his moment in the NBA draft

By Paul Durham paul@wilsontimes.com | 265-7808 | Twitter: @PDsports
Posted 6/18/19
Thousands of miles — literally and figuratively — from his family’s home on the northeast side of Goldsboro, Coby White works and waits for his big moment in Westlake Village, …

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On the edge of a dream: UNC’s White prepares for his moment in the NBA draft

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Thousands of miles — literally and figuratively — from his family’s home on the northeast side of Goldsboro, Coby White works and waits for his big moment in Westlake Village, California, less than an hour from downtown Los Angeles. 

But he won’t have to wait much longer.

White, who decided to leave North Carolina after one spectacular season, is expected to be one of the first dozen names called in the NBA draft Thursday in Brooklyn. It’s been quite a rush for the 19-year-old who a little more than a year was getting his number retired at Greenfield School and accepting the Tom Ham Athlete of the Year Award as presented by The Wilson Times. 

But here he is.

“It was all God’s plan, I feel like, and I’m entrusting to him and I give him all the glory or I wouldn’t be where I’m at,” White said in a telephone interview last week. “I think God blessed me. He blesses people with talent and he blessed me with talent to play basketball and I’m very thankful that God blessed me with the competitive fire and the work ethic that he did and I feel like I’ve combined those two and throughout my high school career and my college career, they’ve helped me get where I’m at.”

DRAFT STATUS

While White is considered one of the top three point guards in the draft, along with Murray State’s Ja Morant and Darius Garland of Memphis, there is a sense that White could go anywhere from No. 4 (currently held by the New Orleans Pelicans after Saturday’s blockbuster trade with the Los Angeles Lakers), to No. 10 (Atlanta Hawks.). However, many mock drafts have White as the target of the Chicago Bulls at No. 7.

For White, it doesn’t matter where he goes — at least that’s how he diplomatically spoke of his future employer.

“I’m wide open,” he said. “I’m just like everybody else — I don’t know where I’m going to go. I just know it’s a blessing to be here, I’m super excited and whoever selects me on draft night, I’ll be very blessed and proud to be a part of that organization.”

White said that he has worked out for the Minnesota Timberwolves (who draft 11th) and had workouts scheduled for the Washington Wizards (with the No. 9 pick) and the Phoenix Suns (with the No. 6 pick).

“So I have those two left and, by that time, it’ll be time to go to New York for the draft,” he said.

The salary scale for a three-year rookie contract ranges between $7 million and $19 million for picks 4-12.

GROWING UP QUICKLY

White, who became the all-time leading scorer in North Carolina high school boys basketball as a senior at Greenfield, continued his rise at UNC. He averaged 16.1 points and 4.1 assists, broke the Tar Heels’ 3-pointer record for a freshman with 82 and landed on the All-Atlantic Coast Conference second team.

Shortly after UNC was knocked out of the NCAA Tournament by Auburn, White announced his decision to leave school after one year — a conclusion at which he didn’t plan arriving when the season began. In fact, he didn’t seriously consider leaving Carolina until late in the season. 

White said that when the Tar Heels beat archrival Duke 79-70 in Chapel Hill in the final regular-season game March 9, his performance made him think he might be a potential lottery pick. White led the Tar Heels with 21 points, including 14 in the second half.

“Afterwards there was just like a buzz around my name and people were saying this and that,” he said. “I thought to myself that maybe I have a chance to leave after this year but I told myself, if I was going to be a guy that was going to be a top-30 pick and go late in the first round or something like that, I would have come back and worked in my second year to hopefully get where I am now. But, you know, I started playing well, I guess at the right time. I mean, I played well the whole season but it started getting noticed more when we played Duke at home.”

After UNC lost to Auburn in the Midwest Regional semifinals on March 28, White met with UNC head coach Roy Williams, who told him that he would support whatever decision he made. That decision came a few days later when White announced that he was entering the draft.

White admitted that he will miss being a college kid and especially his UNC teammates and coaches.

“The main thing I’m going to miss is being around my teammates every day,” he said. “I was only there for a year but I felt a strong bond and relationships with my teammates that will last forever. So I’m definitely going to miss them a lot and miss seeing the coaches every day. I’m going to miss the college atmosphere and being around the students. You know, they love you there and just being around them every day and the fans. I’m going to miss a lot about Carolina but I’m extremely blessed to be where I’m at. This is a great opportunity for me to achieve my dream and I can’t wait to be playing in the NBA.”

White, who was an above-average student at Greenfield, finished out the semester with “a 2.7 or 2.6” GPA.

“So that’s pretty solid for my first year of college and the schedule that we had,” he said. “I could have done better but towards the end, it got kind of hectic with the decision-making and my future.”

But he plans on continuing work towards his degree.

“I promised my mom and Coach Williams that I’ll go back and finish my degree,” he said.

TRAINING IN LA

White signed with Creative Artists Agency, a major entertainment and talent representation firm that counts NBA stars Chris Paul and Paul George among its clients. White played for the CP3 AAU team that Paul, a North Carolina native, sponsored and even helped coach at high-level tournaments.

Once he signed with CAA, White moved to California to train under the guidance of former NBA player Don MacLean, who is still the all-time leading scorer at UCLA as well as the Pac-12 Conference. 

“I feel like I’ve gotten a lot better out here,” White said. “He’s been pushing me to my limits. He played in the league for 10 years. … So he knows the game of basketball really well and he knows the ins and outs of the NBA and he has a great mind about basketball and the league. On the court, the workouts have been great and he’s helped me and the fellow draftees get a lot better since we’ve been out here.”

For White, a self-described basketball junkie, it’s heaven on earth as he grinds at Proactive Sports Performance, a training facility in Westlake Village.

“I’m working out twice a day in the mornings and the afternoons, six days a week,” he said. “My only off-day is Sunday so we usually go hard during the week and so far I’m really enjoying the process.”

While White never shied away from his schoolwork, he’s utterly delighted to have one single focus now — basketball.

“I think when people ask me what part are you enjoying the most about the pre-draft process, I just tell them that you can focus all your energy and all your time right now on basketball and being a better basketball player and bettering yourself,” he said. “I feel like growing up, all throughout my life except now, I had school first, school first and school first. Now it’s basketball everything. I’m really enjoying it, man. That’s why I feel like my game has come up to the next level. I come every day and I’m ready to work. It’s like my job now and every day I’m come ready to work with the mindset that I want to be the best and in order to do that, I’ve got to work the hardest.”

White’s dedication to offseason workouts was legendary at Greenfield, which has no air-conditioning in its gymnasium, often referred to as “The Dungeon” by Knights players and head coach Rob Salter.

White said he got a taste of that recently when Southern California experienced a late-spring heat wave.

“We train at Proactive,” he said. “It’s a great facility but it’s kind of a garage-type thing. I love the feel of it because it’s kind of like ‘The Dungeon-type’ thing, so we go hard in here. But the last week, it’s been 103 (degrees) and there’s no A/C in there, so it be mad hot! I feel like I’m back at Greenfield!”

A FAMILIAR FACE

While he’s more than ready to play in the NBA, White is still a 19-year-old who has only one year of college away from home. Thus, he will turn to a familiar face for some guidance as he negotiates the exciting but potentially perilous world of a professional athlete. White’s older brother, Will, is going to be his roommate, so to speak, until he’s ready to be completely on his own.

“I think in our family we’ve always been brought up to watch out for family so family’s first,” Will White said. “Me and my brother, because we have a good relationship and we’re very close, kind of like best friends. So I’m the type of person that whatever he needs, I’m going to try to make sure he’s OK first and foremost. I just want him to be stress-free as much as possible so he can focus on playing and playing well. If that means me going out there with him and helping him make that transition, that’s what I’ll do.”

For Will, that meant putting a temporary hold on his career as a college basketball coach. Will, eight years older than Coby, played at Eastern Wayne High before playing collegiately at Catawba Valley Community College and then Mars Hill University. He then served as an assistant coach at both schools and this past season was a graduate assistant at UNC Greensboro.

But Will said that he’ll eventually get back into coaching.

“It’s always been a passion of mine, a dream of mine to coach at the collegiate level,” he said. “I’ve been blessed to coach at junior college, Division II and help out this past year at Division I. So I’ve collected some ties at each stop and met some great people there and are still willing to keep in contact and help me out however they can, so hopefully I’ll still stay in contact with those people and still stay up to date with the college game. When the time is right for Coby to live on his own, I’ll try to get back into coaching.”

For now, Coby is excited to have his big brother and best friend going on this adventure with him.

“He’s been my best friend since I was born and he helped raise me and he’s always been there for me,” Coby said. “I asked him to come with me. I know he had a lot going on, being a GA at UNCG and he wanted to chase his dreams. I told him that I would totally understand if he didn’t want to come, but he said, ‘You’re my best friend and you’re my little brother and I’m always going to be there for you and I love you.’

“I love him more than life itself. It’s going to be fun. We’re going to enjoy ourselves and have some good times. So it should be a great experience.”

THE BIG DAY

Coby will have more than just his brother with him Thursday at the NBA draft. Their mother, Bonita, and sister, Tia, will be there along with a coterie of family and friends that will include Greenfield head coach Rob Salter, former Greenfield players Darian Cahill and Jeremy Jeffers, who helped White in his training over his last three seasons at Greenfield and former Knights teammate and friend Cedric Kirby.

But one person who won’t be there, at least not physically, is White’s late father, Donald White. Known to all as “Doc,” the White patriarch died of cancer in August 2017, just before Coby’s senior year at Greenfield began. Donald White’s influence on his children is clearly evident.

“Everybody has a debt to my father for instilling the work ethic that he did into all three of us — me, my brother and my sister,” Will White said. “I think that everything — the discipline and the work ethic — is paying off especially for Coby right now as well as all three of us because all three of us are successful in our paths.”

Coby channeled his grief into dedication toward fulfilling his father’s dreams for him. He leaves the hashtag “#FMF” (for my father) on all his social media posts, reminding himself and the world of why he works so hard. Donald White played collegiately at North Carolina Central University in the 1970s. He understood the game of basketball but, even more so, understood the game of life — something he made sure to impart on his children.

“My father taught me how to be a man and that in life you have to work for everything that you get and nobody is given anything, so you have to earn it,” Coby said. “From a young age, he taught me that. My dad, he was a hard-working man and he did whatever he could to provide for his family and for his children. So I feel like for him raising me to be the person that I am and the man I’ve become, I just try to do those things every day and live how he lived. 

“I think he instilled that confidence. My dad was confident and he believed in himself and stayed true to himself. My dad taught me to be confident but to always stay true to yourself and never forget where you came from.”

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