After the Spurs selected Derrick White with the 29th pick in the first round of last week’s NBA draft, the Colorado guard said he was eager to start learning “The Spurs Way” when he arrived in San Antonio.
White, who turns 23 on Sunday, has had a crash course this week on the culture that has made the franchise a model of consistency for 20 years. He arrived in the city on Monday and has been practicing with the Spurs team that will start playing in the Utah Jazz Summer League on Monday in Salt Lake City.
The Silver and Black’s roster includes forward Davis Bertans and guards Bryn Forbes and Dejounte Murray – all rookies on last season’s team – and Clemson forward Jaron Blossomgame, the team’s second-round draft pick this year.
“I’m excited to be out here,” White said Friday after practice. “I’m just learning what they pride themselves in. I’ve learned a lot these last couple of days, and I’m just going to continue to learn and continue to develop as a player.”
White was so overwhelmed after getting drafted by the Spurs that he had a tough time containing his emotions during a phone conversation with coach Gregg Popovich.
“He’s one of the greatest coaches in professional sports, so I’m really excited to learn under him and learn as much as I can from him,” White said.
Asked how he felt when he saw the five NBA championship banners hanging on a wall inside the Spurs practice facility, White said: “That’s just the Spurs. They win. I’m just excited to be out here and try to hang some more banners up there.”
White, 6-foot-5 and 200 pounds, played three seasons at Division II Colorado-Colorado Springs before capping his college career at Colorado this past year.
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.
A combo guard in college, White will be expected to play both backcourt spots for the Spurs.
“He’s a good basketball player,” said assistant coach Will Hardy, who will coach the Summer League team. “He can play both guard spots. He handles it well, so we’re looking forward to exploring some of that in Summer League. I would expect to see him on and off the ball.”
Barely 6 feet tall as a high school senior, White was woefully under-recruited as a senior at Legend High School in Parker, Colo., where he was born and raised. Given his humble start, his ascent to becoming a first-round pick was easily one of the most compelling stories of this year’s NBA draft.
If not for a twist of fate, White may never have played at Colorado-Colorado Springs, much less Colorado. Johnson & Wales University, a small, non-scholarship culinary school in Denver that competes in the NAIA, was one of only two schools that expressed interest in White. The other was a junior college in Wyoming.
But White’s fortunes began to change when Jeff Culver, the coach at Johnson & Wales, was hired as head coach at Colorado-Colorado Springs in April 2012. Offered a partial scholarship by Culver, White signed with UCCS before graduating that spring and started his steady climb.
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).
Getting overlooked by college recruiters gave him more incentive to succeed, White told the San Antonio media in a conference call after he was drafted by the Spurs. White talked about playing with a chip on his shoulder throughout his college career.
“It’s a big reason why I’m here,” White said. “I’m going to keep it on my shoulder. It will continue to motivate me and drive me, so I can never be satisfied and just remember where I came from.”
With Tony Parker expected to be out for at least the half of the season as he works to come back from a ruptured quadriceps tendon, Murray could be the Spurs’ starting point guard on opening night. Murray saw considerable playing time in the postseason after Parker was injured in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Houston Rockets.
Murray played in 38 games as a rookie, averaging 3.8 points, 1.3 assists and 1.1 rebounds in 8.5 minutes. He started two games in the playoffs, both against the Rockets.
Murray was so motivated after the Spurs were swept by Golden State in the Western Conference Finals that he was back at the team’s practice facility two days later. Murray says that he's already gained five pounds since he started his offseason strength and conditioning program.
“Last year, I came in here and I was trying to learn the offense, just learn how they do things over here,” Murray said. “I was just the outsider looking in. Now I’m a part of this family. I know what to do, so now I’m leading.”
After playing in the Summer League, Murray plans to work out with Spurs All-NBA forward Kawhi Leonard in San Diego.
“We’re going to put in a lot of work,” Murray said. “Kawhi wants me there with him because he knows I want to get better, and he knows how great I want to be. When somebody invites me to get better, I’m going to be right there.”
Murray has been impressed with what he’s seen of White and Blossomgame in workouts.
“Great dudes,” he said. “They want to learn. They came in here asking questions, and I was watching them because last year I was in their position. But now I get to watch and see how they carry themselves. I’m getting to know them on and off the floor.”
The Spurs, Jazz, Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers will play in the Utah Jazz Summer League. A total of six games are scheduled for Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, with a doubleheader set for 6 and 8 each night. San Antonio plays Utah at 8 p.m. Monday.
The Spurs also will play in the NBA Summer League, which starts on Friday in Las Vegas and ends with the championship game on July 17. A total of 24 NBA teams will play in a tournament-style format. San Antonio opens play against Miami at 5 p.m. Saturday.
One of Hardy's assistant coaches on the Summer League team is Sebastian "Sepo" Ginobili, an older brother of Spurs guard Manu Ginobili.