It was fortuitous for Spurs first-round draft pick Derrick White that his college coach at Colorado has a history with the franchise’s general manager, R.C. Buford.
Tad Boyle was a senior at Kansas during the 1984-85 season when Buford was starting his coaching career as a graduate assistant under Larry Brown, who went on to be David Robinson’s first Spurs coach.
In the months leading up to last week’s NBA draft, Buford and his brain trust relied heavily on Boyle’s unvarnished assessment of White’s game before targeting him as a potential selection.
“Knowing Tad and trusting Tad had a big impact on our feelings,” Buford said. “He was really confident this guy belongs.”
At the end of a day in which trade rumors involving LaMarcus Aldridge and Danny Green swirled around the league, the Spurs stood pat and picked White with the 29th pick in the first round late Thursday.
A 6-foot-5, 200-pound guard, White played three seasons at Division II Colorado-Colorado Springs before capping his college career at Colorado this year.
Boyle described White as an outstanding, selfless player who is a “perfect fit” for the Silver and Black. From all accounts, White has a high basketball IQ and always has made his teammates better.
“His versatility as a guard is tremendous,” Boyle said in a phone interview. “He can play on the ball, handle it and play the pick-and-roll. He’s also a great cutter. He’s got a great feel for the game. He can score and he knows how to read screens away from the ball."
“That’s the beauty of his game, his ability to play on and off the ball as a guard. There are a lot of guys who have to have the ball to be effective. He’s not one of them.”
Boyle was at White’s draft viewing party Thursday night and saw how excited Boyle and his family were after the Spurs picked him.
“Here’s something that the people of San Antonio really need to know,” Boyle said. “Derrick White and his family were not just excited because he was drafted. They weren’t just excited because he was drafted in the first round. They were really excited because he was drafted by the San Antonio Spurs. That’s the distinction."
“A lot of kids on draft night say, ‘Somebody took me.’ It’s their life-long dream. Part of that is true. I’m not discounting that. But the fact that it was the Spurs made it extra special.”
Although White made the Pac-12 All-Defensive team, Boyle said he thinks White is an underrated defender and shot blocker.
“A lot of guys who are good scorers don’t necessarily put a lot of emphasis on the defensive end,” Boyle said. “Derrick knows that for him to certainly be effective at the next level, that’s going to be important. The one thing he does is that he has great anticipation skills, and he’s a really underrated shot blocker."
“You don’t think of a 6-5 guard as a shot blocker, but he can block shots. Not necessarily away from the ball, but when he’s on his man, which is very unusual. I’ve never coached a kid like that before, but he’s really good in that regard. Is defense an area he needs to get better? Absolutely. But he knows that and he will. He’s such a conscientious kid that he will do whatever it takes.”
After sitting out the 2015-16 season at Colorado to comply with NCAA transfer rules, White started 33 of 34 games as a senior, averaging 18.1 points, 4.1 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 1.2 steals. He made the Pac-12 All-Conference First Team, All-Defensive Team and All-Tournament Team.
The top two picks in this year’s draft, Washington point Markelle Fultz (Philadelphia 76ers) and UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball (Los Angeles Lakers) played in the Pac-12.
White, who turns 23 on July 2, has gotten high marks for the way he carries himself on and off the court.
“He’s humble. He’s just a terrific young man,” Boyle said. “He comes from a great family. I just can’t say enough about him. The bottom line is this: The Spurs organization, R.C. and Pop (coach Gregg Popovich), they value character. They have a great culture there. Derrick White embodies everything that the Spurs believe in."
“On the floor, you have to be able to play or you won’t play. Obviously, they feel and I feel, that he’s a perfect fit for them,” Boyle said.
Given the humble beginnings of his college career, White’s selection in the first round of the draft is even more impressive. Only 6-1 as a senior at Legend High School in Parker, CO., he was passed over by Colorado and every other Division I school in the country. UCCS was the only four-year college that offered him a scholarship – a partial one, at that – and there was a junior college in Wyoming that wanted to sign him. But that was the extent of his college recruitment.
Buford called White’s road to becoming a first-round draft pick “an interesting story.”
White earned Division II All-America honors at UCCS as a sophomore and junior, helping lead the Mountain Lions to the NCAA Tournament both seasons. He set school career records for points (1,912) and assists (343).
“After his sophomore year, we knew that he was a special player,” Boyle said. “He put up some big numbers. Colorado is a small state when it comes to the basketball community. There were a lot of players on our team that knew him from high school and the AAU circuit. They’d tell me, ‘This kid’s pretty good.’"
“He was thinking of leaving after his sophomore year. I’d never seen him play. I’d just heard about him and seen him on Synergy (Sports, a web-based scouting service). We didn’t push the issue. We said, ‘If he leaves, we’ll take the next step.’ But he wound up not leaving and went back to UCCS for his junior year.”
After three seasons with the Titans, White packed his bags and headed for Boulder. To hear Boyle tell it, he couldn’t sign White fast enough.
“He had another great year his junior season, and said he was leaving for sure,” Boyle said. “We obviously jumped on him as soon as he got his release. He just kind of played himself onto our radar. If I had known how good he was after his sophomore year, I’d have pushed the issue a little bit.”
After getting drafted by the Spurs, White told reporters that getting overlooked as a high school senior gave him more incentive to succeed.
“It just drove me to get better,” he said. “Each time you have the doubters, you just put a little chip on your shoulder. It was humbling at times. It just made me work to just continue never to be satisfied.”
Boyle recalled how White won over his new teammates at Colorado with his skills and attitude.
“Even when he got to our place and he was practicing the year he sat out, and even at the beginning of this year, some of guys would say, ‘This isn’t Division II anymore. This is Division I,’” Boyle said. “They kind of made comments like that. He just kind of took it all in stride."
“He didn’t get bent out of shape. He didn’t pout. He just showed what he could do, and it became very evident that he was our best player. He knew it. They knew it. He’s got that chip on his shoulder, and he also has humility.”
The Spurs selected Clemson forward Jaron Blossomgame (6-7, 220) in the second round with the 59th overall pick. White and Blossomgame will be in San Antonio this week to begin workouts with the Spurs’ summer league team.