“From North Carolina! At guard, 6-5… No. 0… Coby White!”
Not long ago, the prospect of those words leading pregame introductions at the United Center would have seemed a fantasy. Even White himself will tell you that.
But ahead of a 108-103 Bulls victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers Tuesday night, Chicago PA-man Nick Mitrovich bellowed them to ovation.
“It was exciting, my first one,” White said of getting to hear his name called for the first time in his NBA career. “Good to get a win in my first one. It was fun and it's a blessing to be starting in the NBA.”
Coby’s name is called: pic.twitter.com/mro26COrQ2— Rob Schaefer (@rob_schaef) March 11, 2020
White, of course, denied any pre- or in-game jitters, saying the most memorable part of the night was the intensity with which the Bulls ground out their 22nd victory of the season. He was integral to that result, leading the team in scoring with 20 points in a game-high 37:57 minutes (he was the only Bull to play more than 30), adding five assists and five rebounds.
Forty-one percent shooting from the floor and 2-for-7 from 3-point range won’t set the recordkeepers into action, but ingrained in his overall performance were some tantalizing flashes. White’s rapidly developing craft, devastating straight-line speed and markedly improved finishing were all on display early and often:
“He made that play where he went to his left and got down the lane so quickly after a timeout,” Bulls coach Jim Boylen said. “And I just said to my coaches, I said that looked like Steve Francis. That’s how Steve Francis used to do it with that burst.”
And who better to line up against in one’s first career start than Collin Sexton? The two went hard at each other on both ends all night, adding a refreshing layer of intrigue to an otherwise easily neglectable mid-March game between two below-.500 teams.
“I thought [White] competed. He was on Sexton a lot, that guys a hard guy to guard. He’s fast, he’s strong,” Boylen said. “I thought Coby was a two-way player tonight.”
White, for his part, relished the head-to-head with Sexton, who he said he worked out with last summer and has known since the two competed together for White’s Chris Paul-coached AAU team back in the day. The Cavs’ sophomore one-upped the Bulls’ rookie tonight, tallying 26 points on 12-for-16 shooting and five assists.
“That's Collin's personality, that's who he is, that's his makeup, that's his genetic,” White said. “Ever since he was little, they all call him Young Bull, and you know they call him Young Bull for a reason.
“He always comes out and attacks whoever he's playing against and tonight it was me… I know what type of guy he is and I was ready for it. It's nothing new.”
The blemish on White’s statline: Nine turnovers, which pervaded the contest from start to finish. He also was party to two miscues in the final minute of the game. The first: Up 105-101 with just over 40 seconds to play, a fumbled handoff from Lauri Markkanen to White resulted in a turnover (which was assessed to Markkanen); then, after the Cavs got a quick bucket to draw within 105-103 at the 38 second mark, White dribbled out the next possession before hoisting a contested, off-balance jumper that clanked off the rim as the shot clock expired. Shaq Harrison saved the day with a putback attempt that resulted in a foul.
“It was some little tweaks here and there, my first start. You know, I had the ball in my hands a lot tonight,” White said. “It's unacceptable as a point guard, but at the end of the day we got the win. Just gotta keep working on it. Turnovers haven't been a problem for me the whole year, so I just gotta stay focused and take care of the ball.”
No one’s asking for perfection from White. Over the past month or so, he’s transformed from lightning-strike-scorer (both in intensity and frequency) to a steadily impactful, multi-faceted offensive player. Tonight, as with most of White’s nights recently, there was more good than bad.
“You still play a lot of minutes even though he was coming off the bench, so I think he didn’t feel that pressure. Obviously, starting here on homecourt, that can be big time for a -year-old kid and he was able to make some big plays,” Tomas Satoransky said.
And of the turnovers: “That’s his game, being aggressive. That’s where you want him to learn from this experience, from these minutes.”
Down the season’s final 17-game march, that’s all worth clinging to — and building on.