CAMDEN, N.J. — A little more than two years ago, Derrick White was just becoming a blip on NBA radars.
Then a scrawny guard at Division II University of Colorado Colorado Springs, White faced a critical decision in his basketball career — would he try to become the first player drafted from the NCAA’s second tier in more than a decade or would he choose to sit out a season before playing his last year of collegiate hoops at Colorado?
White opted for the latter, and it appears he made the right call.
With the Sixers‘ bringing a half-dozen prospects to their facility for a pre-draft workout Monday morning, there was little question as to whom the team was focusing most of its attention on. Less than three weeks away from the NBA draft, White is still ascending up draft boards and had the chance to impress the Sixers’ brass for the second time in less than a month, playing for head coach Brett Brown and president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo in a handful of three-on-three scrimmages.
Given his quick rise through the basketball ranks, the now-6-foot-5 guard could be an intriguing prospect if he’s still on the board when the team makes its first of four second-round picks at No. 36 overall.
“He’s going to be a really solid player,” Colangelo said. “I had a chance to see him quite a bit. I was at the Pac-12 tournament this year, I saw two or three games and he brings a lot. Offensively, he’s got a knack for scoring the basketball, he’s got a handle, he can create shots. He does a lot of things. … He’s a guy that knows how to score and he’s just got a nice feel for the game.”
Even in his time at Colorado Springs, White drew the attention of pro scouts. As Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Eisenberg detailed last month, White nearly didn’t have an NCAA offer coming out of high school, but at the last minute, he got the chance to play at UCCS.
And with the opportunity in front of him, White jumped — he scored 16.9 points per game as a freshman before posting 22.2 and 25.8 each of his next two seasons, respectively. Although eyes were finally focused on him, White realized that even just a season at the Division I level could ultimately put him over the top.
“You’ve just got to get used to the game, the speed,” White, a Parker, Colorado native, said. “There was an adjustment [from D-II to D-I] and there’s going to be a bigger adjustment [to the NBA], so I’ve just got to come in and learn as fast as possible.”
Quick would be one word to describe White’s development in two years with the Colorado program. After redshirting the 2015-16 season, he was the Buffaloes’ star last year, leading the team in points, assists and steals while also being named first-team All-Pac-12 and to the conference’s all-defensive team.
Currently, DraftExpress has White ranked 31st in this year’s draft class and its latest mock draft projects him as the 33rd overall pick to Orlando. But with his strong shooting skills — 50.7 percent from the field in 2016-17 in addition to almost 40 percent beyond the arc (39.6) and 81.3 percent from the charity stripe — and a scorer’s mentality, White could be well-suited for a Sixers’ group that still lacks consistent offense from the guard position.
“They had some success last year and I could help continue that success,” White said. “[I’d want to] just come in and try to keep doing what they’ve been working on defensively, compete each and every possession and space the floor.”
White’s path has been unique, but he finds himself in a familiar position. In a draft class that is guard-heavy at the top, featuring a number of big names that includes fellow All-Pac-12 first-teamers Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball, White is back to being a bit under the radar.
Still, with pre-draft workouts for the Pacers, Bucks, Spurs, Magic and Knicks already under his belt and others to come later this week, NBA teams, including the Sixers, aren’t looking past a guy who has been “overlooked by everybody” once before.
“If you look at [White], you look at the tools he brings,” Sixers vice president of player personnel Marc Eversley said. “He’s very versatile, he’s got a great handle, he’s got terrific vision and he’s a great passer. … He’s just got a great story. He’s continued to work at his game at a high, high level. He’s a high character kid. He sees a goal and I think he wants to get to that goal.”
Until then, White can do little more than bide his time and continue to show why he’s ready to finally achieve that goal — making it in the NBA.
“I just try to keep improving each day,” White said. “I want to keep making the right decisions in transition, doing the things offensively that fit my game.”