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CHARLOTTE — One day at an undetermined point in the future, Coby White will have the basketball in his hands as the Chicago Bulls attempt to win a game in the closing stages.
That just didn’t happen Wednesday night at Spectrum Center in the first regular-season act for the Greenfield School product.
Facing a Hornets team expected to struggle in 2019-20 with the departure of franchise icon Kemba Walker to the Boston Celtics, Charlotte instead threw up and made a torrent of 3-point shots to open the season. After watching the Hornets incinerate the nets for 23 3-pointers — a franchise record for regulation time — White’s first game that counted as a professional ended with a 126-125 loss — and the No. 7 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft sitting on the Chicago bench with just a pair of personal fouls.
In just over 27 minutes, White, playing in a game that testified to the elite shotmakers who populate NBA rosters, finished with 17 points on 6-of-13 shooting. He came off the bench and entered with 6 minutes, 30 seconds left in the first quarter, making his first regular-season basket roughly three minutes later. Taking a pass from Kris Dunn, White pulled up from just outside the right elbow and knocked down a 3-pointer from 26 feet out. In the final minute of the quarter, White, who played his freshman season at North Carolina before declaring for the draft, was fouled in 3-point territory by fellow Tar Heel Marvin Williams. He hit all three free throws amidst a smattering of boos from the road crowd, but the Hornets, well on their way to a record-setting evening beyond the arc, led 37-28 after the first quarter.
“I just kind of approach it like any other game — if I was starting or coming off the bench,” White said in the Bulls’ visiting locker room after the game. “I try to come in and contribute in any way I can.”
Half of Charlotte’s field-goal attempts came from long range (44 of 88), and Kentucky’s P.J. Washington, taken by the Hornets five slots after White at No. 12, set an NBA rookie record by making seven 3s in a career-opening game. In all, the Bulls were outscored 69-27 from behind the 3-point line and lost by a point after outscoring the Hornets 78-42 in the paint. Forward Lauri Markkanen was the primary beneficiary of the Bulls’ low-post dominance, leading all scorers and rebounders with a haughty double-double of 35 points and 17 rebounds.
“They hit shots and they got good shots,” White said. “Credit to them, they moved the ball around very well and they got the shots that they wanted. Basketball is a game of runs, and they went on a late run.”
White’s career, from his days at Greenfield to his freshman season at UNC, has been categorized by deceptive scoring. The 6-foot-4 point guard, noted for his ability to simply get a basket when it’s needed, can sit on a point total for several minutes and then with one burst, is well into double digits.
His ability to get to the basket off the bounce came into focus early in the second quarter, where White got around Malik Monk and finished at the rim when help failed to rotate over.
Not surprisingly, the adjustment to the speed of the NBA game was something to get used to for White, but he has his own top-line speed to throw at opponents. His defense will undergo scrutiny in a league bathed in isolation plays.
“But I’m already up to date with the speed,” he said. “Just moving from assignment to assignment in the NBA, and one-on-one guarding. There are plenty of big, talented guys and it’s hard to keep in front.”
From an assists standpoint, White surpassed his entire preseason total in just one contest, handing out seven to lead the Bulls after getting just five in the entire preseason. He turned it over only once.
Chicago erased a 16-point Hornets lead midway through the third quarter and assumed a 118-108 lead on Zach LaVine’s 3-pointer with 6 minutes, 19 seconds to go.
However, White, a shotmaker in a shot-making league, would soon not be out there for the finish.
He turned it over on a 3-on-2 fast break, taking the ball down the middle of the lane and running into Devonte’ Graham just outside of the restricted area. That led to a 3-pointer from Graham, and after two cracks at an offensive putback — one from White and another from Wendell Carter Jr. — Charlotte was out in transition and used another 3-pointer from Graham to pull within four at the 4 minute, 18 second mark.
Bulls head coach Jim Boylen called timeout, and his lineup upon returning to the floor did not include White. Nor did it for the remainder of the game. Even with that, he sat on the floor by the Chicago bench, encouraging teammates and trying to clap his way to a win in game No. 1 of 82.
The Hornets escaped, and White, who has never taken kindly to losing at any level of the sport, draped a Gatorade towel over his head to exchange greetings with a few members of the Hornets. One was Williams.
“He just told me congrats, stay healthy, keep grinding and keep being me,” White said of his postgame chat with Williams. “We’ll stay in contact, and just let me know if I ever need anything.”
The towel remained affixed to White’s signature hairstyle as he left the floor and headed for the tunnel.
“I’ve always wanted to win,” he said. “But I think for me, since I’m playing an 82-game season, I have to learn how to move on. We play again Friday (at Memphis), so we’ve got to get ready for that game. This was definitely a learning experience for us, especially for me.”
As for Boylen, he met the customary road media throng outside the Chicago locker room.
“Coby’s great,” Boylen said. “He’s a competitive kid. He competes, plays hard and cares. He’s learning, he’s very coachable. We’re thankful for him.”
But that gratitude did not extend to the floor for the final 258 seconds of White’s first NBA odyssey.
“We’re all a brotherhood,” White said. “We’re all a family. We’ve got one goal, and that’s to win. We’re a team, and it’s all about winning. I’m going to do whatever I can, whether it’s from the bench or on the court to help my team, give them the energy that they need to fight through and win.”