AAron Ontiveroz / The Denver Post
AAron Ontiveroz / The Denver Post
A week earlier Derrick White was throwing down emphatic dunks against his hometown team while playing like one of the breakout stars of the NBA playoffs.
It was quite a different scene for the former Colorado Buffaloes star late Tuesday night.
After three games that saw White lead the San Antonio Spurs to a 2-1 first-round series lead against the Denver Nuggets, including a 36-point eruption in Game 3 in San Antonio, the Nuggets have smothered White with far more dedicated defensive pressure the past two games while reclaiming a 3-2 series lead heading onto Thursday’s Game 6 in San Antonio.
White managed just 12 points in the Nuggets’ rout in Game 5 Tuesday night, with nine of those points coming in the fourth quarter with the hosts already cruising toward victory. Afterward White, his head partially obscured by the hood of a sweatshirt, gamely explained the turn of fortunes for himself and his team before heading back out to the Pepsi Center floor, where a throng of family and friends awaited who have proudly watched him grow from an ignored prospect out of Legend High School in Parker to an All-Pac-12 performer with the Buffs to the point guard of a perennial NBA playoff contender.
“They’re being more physical, not letting me get to my spots,” White said. “We’ve just got to work together as a unit and figure it out.”
For those who have watched White’s career unfold, his eruption on the NBA’s biggest stage hardly is a surprise. Through the first three games of the series against Denver, White averaged 19.3 points while shooting .640 from the field (32-for-50). The past two games have been more of a struggle, with White averaging just 10 points while shooting 8-for-20 against a Nuggets defense that no longer is overlooking him.
Still, with the Spurs’ collective backs against the wall, don’t expect White to wither. Since leaving Legend and turning himself into a Division II All-American at UCCS, White has made a career out of overcoming obstacles and making the most of whatever opportunities come his way.
“I think it’s great that his story is getting out there,” said Marcus Mason, a club coach and a former assistant at the University of Denver who remains one of White’s mentors. “For me, that’s the most exciting part that kids can hear about this guy who had nothing. Wasn’t even a one-star recruit, and through his hard work and discipline he was able to further his career.
“Every single time in Derrick’s life since seventh grade, when he’s faced an obstacle, he never sits and pouts.”
Even the success White has enjoyed at the NBA level seemingly overnight has not occurred without a few trials along the way. After getting selected 29th overall in the 2017 draft, White spent the bulk of the 2017-18 season with the Austin Spurs of the G League while also appearing in 17 games with San Antonio. This year, White has twice been sidelined by foot issues before resuming his place in the Spurs’ rotation for the stretch run of the season.
White also was afforded a bigger opportunity this season in San Antonio when Dejounte Murray suffered a torn ACL during the preseason. As he has throughout his career, White took advantage of the situation.
The slow yet steady ascension of former Buffs like White and Brooklyn’s Spencer Dinwiddie continues to give CU head coach Tad Boyle an enticing sales pitch while wooing potential recruits.
“It’s so nice that he’s a good kid. He’s so humble and so appreciative of the opportunities that he’s had every step along the way,” Boyle said. “And now he’s with the Spurs and he’s making the most of that. I think anybody that’s ever been associated with Derrick every step of the way is really, really proud of him and happy for him. That speaks to the kind of kid he is, the family he comes from.
“That’s why he fits in so well with San Antonio — because he is so humble, and he is so selfless. He’s a great teammate. And obviously he’s proving he’s a hell of a player. I think the whole state of Colorado is happy for him.”