Players to Watch in the 2019-20 Season: Coby White
The Chicago Bulls rebuild is in its infancy. Chicago went 22-60 in a year that saw a mid-season firing, critical injuries to their young core, and a near mutiny. Though their record was 5th worst in franchise history, many Bulls fans were encouraged by the team’s late-season progress under interim head coach Jim Boylen, a former Popovich assistant. With the interim tag removed, Boylen is now the unequivocal leader of the Bulls for the anticipated future. Lauri Markkanen’s development seems to be right on schedule. The midseason pairing of Otto Porter and Zach LaVine created a lethal scoring combination with the latter, LaVine making significant strides defensively. Rookie Wendell Carter Jr’s inside game (when healthy) seemed to be the perfect complement to Markkanen’s finesse game. Lastly, and maybe most importantly, the team seemed committed to reimagining their defensive identity this upcoming season.
Coby White played for the Greenfield School in Wilson, North Carolina where he scored an astounding 3.573 points over his career becoming the state’s all-time leading scorer. Let me put White’s high school exploits into context, current NBA players Stephen Curry, Brandon Ingram, and Chris Paul played their high school ball North Carolina. NBA Hall of Famers James Worthy, Dominique Wilkins, “Pistol” Pete Maravich, and Michael Jordan also earned their stripes playing in North Carolina. Standing at 6’5”, 191 pounds White earned a reputation as one of the nation’s top combo guards with his unique blend of size, speed, and perimeter scoring. White was ranked 24th overall in ESPN’s top 100, number four at the point guard position by the end of the 2017 season.
UNC head coach Roy Williams has a “type”; Joel Berry II, Marcus Paige, Kendall Marshall, were all high I.Q. “pass-first” facilitators with low turnover rates who found ways to dictate tempo on both sides of the court. Coby White in many ways is an outlier, an anomaly in Williams’ pantheon of floor generals. Roy Williams knew early on he had something special on his hands, Williams had this to say about Coby White in a presser just before the 2019 NBA Draft
“We had four practices last summer, and I thought he was the best player on our team during the summer. It was at that point,"
"About this time last summer I said, 'Guys we need to recruit and try and see if we can get a great point guard in the next class because I don't think (Coby) is going to be here,'"
"If you are the leading scorer in the history of North Carolina high basketball, you are pretty good," "You don't have to be a nuclear physicist to figure that out. I think the way he played here last summer and our practices and everything, that is what sold me."
I watched Coby White play November 22nd during UNC’s loss to the Texas Longhorns. I’m going to choose my words wisely here because you can't discern anything significant about a player’s character from a single game, but he appeared fearless and self-assured, I didn’t expect to see that type of brash play from a freshman so early on in the season. White ended up with 33 points in 30 minutes, seemingly scoring on every kind of look, open court or half court, off the ball or on the ball, using screens or in spots of isolation, he continually founds ways to exerted his will on the defense.
Once Williams handed White the keys to the kingdom he never looked back. White ended the season UNC’s 2nd leading scorer and the team’s leader in assists while shooting 80% from the free-throw line. White was voted to the All-ACC second team, the ACC ALL-Freshman team, and finished 3rd for ACC Newcomer of the Year. The Tar Heels became ACC regular-season co-champions and notched a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Not bad for freshman campaign.
White accomplished all of these feats while grieving the loss of his father, Donald “Doc” White who succumbed to cancer Aug 15, 2017, before the start of his senior year of high school. White penned a touching piece for “The Players Tribune” discussing how the loss affected he and his family during his lone year at UNC. It’s hard not to root for a young man like that, his grit and perseverance in the face of human tragedy speaks volumes.
Now while I love White’s game, I’m not entirely sure he will be the day one starter, his height, quickness, and scoring prowess will make him a prime candidate to lead the second unit, at least early on in the season. White has all “the tools in the shed” necessary to be a productive starter in this league. Will he supersede newly signed Tomas Satoransky or returning guard Kris Dunn as the team’s starting point guard? I couldn’t tell you for certain but I’m not betting against Coby White.