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Ready to take off: UNC’s White announces decision to enter NBA draft

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A decision that many observers had deemed a foregone conclusion was announced Wednesday by North Carolina freshman Coby White — he is turning pro.

White, a 2018 Greenfield School graduate and The Wilson Times Athlete of the Year as a senior, removed what little speculation was left that he would remain at UNC for another year. He released a statement through the basketball office in which he said, “I’ve always had a dream of playing basketball in the NBA and with that being said, I’ve decided to enter the 2019 NBA Draft. This year, this school, this experience has prepared me for the next phase of my basketball journey.”

As he did at Greenfield, White played himself into being a potential first-round pick in the June draft with a historic freshman season at UNC. He broke the Tar Heels freshman record for 3-pointers and became the first freshman at UNC to score 30 or more points three times. He finished with 552 points, fifth most by a Carolina freshman, and was named to the All-Atlantic Coast Conference second team in helping the Tar Heels to a share of the ACC regular-season title and a 29-7 record.

“He had a terrific year and the future’s very bright,” said Rob Salter, White’s coach at Greenfield. “I think he’s got a chance to be a lottery pick. He loved Carolina but his dream is to play in the NBA and he’s going to work hard to get ready for it.”

White’s mother, Bonita, said that her son wasn’t sure what his decision would be until he met with North Carolina head coach Roy Williams after the Tar Heels returned from Kansas City following their loss to Auburn in the NCAA Tournament third round on Thursday, March 28.

“When he got back, he sat down with Coach Williams on Sunday,” Bonita White said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “After that meeting with Coach Williams, he made a decision. In that meeting — and I talked to Coach Williams too — Coach Williams told him he was ready and that he would support him in either direction that he took. If he chose to go and declare, he would 100% support him or if he chose to stay, he would 100% support him. I think after that conversation with Coach Williams, that gave him what he needed to make that final decision.”

Salter said that he hadn’t discussed the NBA with White until late in the season.

“At the ACC Tournament, we kind of talked a little bit about it,” Salter said. “But, you know, he’s ready. He loved Carolina so much that he had to make sure he was doing the right thing but he knows that he is. His game’s ready and Coach Williams thinks he’s ready also.”

Bonita White echoed that Williams thought Coby White was ready for the NBA.

“Anyone who follows the game knows Coby could always put the ball in the basket,” Williams said in the release from UNC. “You don’t set the North Carolina high school scoring record without being a great scorer. But I also gave him the ball and asked him to run my team. And he did that very well.  He gave our fans and our team many thrills this year and accomplished things that only a few players his age have ever done. He is one of the most exciting young players in the game. I am going to enjoy watching him play at the next level.”

ACHIEVING THE DREAM

While White preferred not to engage in much discussion of his NBA potential, instead focusing on the next task at hand, be it his senior season at Greenfield or freshman year at UNC, Salter had taken note of White’s talent and work ethic even during his first year at Greenfield as a freshman in 2014-15.

“I thought he would be an NBA player in high school just because I’ve never seen anybody do the things he can do on the court,” Salter said. “Now, he’s about to achieve the dream. He’s not going to be satisfied just getting there. He wants to be an impact player when he gets there.”

He was offered by UNC’s Williams after his sophomore season when White was listed as a four-star recruit. However, the Goldsboro resident’s stock quickly rose and, by the midpoint of his senior season at Greenfield, he was on the national radar. White broke the North Carolina high school boys basketball career scoring record and finished his career with 3,511 points. 

It was a bittersweet season for White, however, as his father, Donald “Doc” White, died of cancer just before his senior year at Greenfield. Since then, Coby White has adopted the hashtag “FMF” (For My Father) on all his social media posts as a constant reminder of playing for his father.

“I just loved every minute of coaching Coby,” Williams said in the release from the school. “He committed to us prior to his junior year, so even though he played one season as a Tar Heel, we’ve known his family for a long time. It’s been an honor to have gotten to know them. His father told me he wanted his son to play for me, which is one of the neatest compliments I’ve ever been given. Coby not only played for our team and for himself, he played to make his father proud, and he certainly has accomplished that.”

The White family — including older brother, Will, and sister, Tia — is tightknit and that will serve Coby White well as a teenager in the NBA. 

“I’m happy for him, I’m very proud of him and I felt like watching him grow over the season that he is ready for the next level,” said his mother. “I do have concerns but I think because Coby is very mature that he’ll handle it well, but we’re not sending him out alone. Because we’ve been discussing it for a little bit, his older brother will go with him until he’s comfortable and settled where he feels like he can handle it on his own. Of course, his sister and I will be in and out wherever he lands at so he won’t ever be without one of us.”

White emerged as a potential NBA draft pick during the season, even admitting in January in an interview with the Times, “I didn’t expect me to play this well that soon in the season.”

White joins his UNC roommate, Nassir Little, in announcing for the NBA draft, which is June 20. White has been ranked as high as fifth in some mock drafts.

Salter said that White’s game may be more suited to the NBA than the collegiate level.

“I’m just excited because his hard work’s paid off and you just see a player like him once in a lifetime,” Salter said.

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