BOULDER — Derrick White always believed he had what it took to become an NCAA Division I basketball player.
His body, however, simply wasn’t cooperating with the plan.
Six years ago, as he neared the end of his junior season at Legend High School in Parker, a time when most top prospects have already received heavy recruiting attention, White’s phone wasn’t chirping with calls from college coaches. At barely 6-foot-1 and 150 pounds, he drew no interest.
To make matters worse, White was headed to a doctor at the end of that season to be told his knee injury would keep him out of the upcoming state playoffs. But suddenly his outlook brightened.
The doctor was right. And now White is where he always hoped he would be, playing Division I basketball.
The 6-5, 195-pound guard will play his first game at Colorado when the Buffaloes host Sacramento State on Friday night, the start of White’s only Division I season after transferring from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.
And his one season comes with high expectations.
“Derrick is a terrific player,” CU coach Tad Boyle said. “All I can say is he’s worth the price of admission.”
White often looked like CU’s best scoring option during practices last season while he redshirted. He’ll be counted upon to handle the ball, score, defend multiple positions and rebound.
“He’s a guy who, when he’s got the ball in his hands, he’s going to make the right decision nine out of 10 times,” Boyle said. “But what makes Derrick White such a special player is when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands. The lost art of basketball today is guys moving without the ball and playing without the ball. That’s what Derrick White does at a level that’s so much higher than the average player.”
That White is clearly such a big part of CU’s plans raises the question: What took the Buffs so long to find the guy?
“He was overlooked by virtually everybody,” Boyle said.
White was a superb high school player but coaches kept counting him out because of his slight frame. All of them but one.
Jeff Culver was coaching at Johnson & Wales, an NAIA school in Denver, and thought the lanky guard could help his team. And Culver didn’t change his mind when he took the job at D-II UCCS, a school that had had little basketball success.
White helped change that. He averaged 17 points as a freshman and 22.5 points as a sophomore when he was named a Division II All-American. He earned the same honor as a junior, a season capped when he scored 50 points in leading UCCS to its first-ever NCAA Tournament victory.
All the while, people were telling White he should take a leap. Transfer and make the D-I jump. Besides, what else was there to prove at D-II?
Still, leaving UCCS, where he developed deep friendships and a strong bond with his coach, wasn’t easy.
“It was the toughest thing I’ve ever done,” he said.
He asked for his release, though, and Boyle, who researched White by speaking extensively with opposing coaches in the RMAC, offered a scholarship.
As White sat out last season, he took to the weight room and stuck to a nutrition plan. He quickly added mass, filling out his frame.
CU enters the season picked to finish fifth in the Pac-12. Though the Buffs lost Josh Scott, the team’s heartbeat and frontcourt star, a good chunk of talent returns.
George King, the Pac-12 most improved player last season, has the ability to be a dominating two-way player. Wesley Gordon made big strides as a junior last season and should elevate his role in the post. There is more experience at the point guard position with Dom Collier entering his junior season and Thomas Akyazili back after showing strong flashes as a freshman. And the Buffs return most of the 3-point shooting threats who fared so well last season.
White could be the missing piece.