In Coby White’s view, where family comes first, his rookie season already is a success.
“I can change my family’s lives,” White said, alluding to the $5.3 million he will make in the first season of his rookie scale contract as the seventh overall pick of last June’s draft.
White already has purchased a new home for his mother, Bonita. His older brother, Will, lives with him and, as a former player, aids with his workouts and in his transition to the NBA. Only his older sister, Tia, is above the fray for now.
“My sister lives in DC. She’s well off. She doesn’t need anything, which she reminds me of all the time,” White said, laughing. “Remember, she’s the only one who calls me by my real name to mess with me.”
That’s Alec Jacoby White, for those keeping score at home. An Aunt began calling him Coby near birth.
Thursday night’s loss to the Jazz marked White’s 35th NBA game. That’s the same number of games he played in during his lone season playing for Roy Williams at North Carolina.
White plays for more than providing for his family---“I want to win so bad,” he said---and is averaging 11.3 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.2 assists in 24.2 minutes for the Bulls. He sat down with NBC Sports Chicago for an interview on his rookie season as it nears the midway point.
NBC Sports Chicago: Do you believe in the “rookie wall”?
Coby White: Yeah. I didn’t believe in any of that type of stuff until last year in college. I hit the “freshman wall” my second semester. So I believe there’s an NBA rookie wall too. And I think I hit it already in December when I was struggling for those six or seven games. Hopefully, I don’t hit another one.
Q: What happened when you hit the wall at North Carolina?
A: I had three or four games where I wasn’t hitting shots. I was going like 2-for-9 from the field. (Director of recruiting) Kendall (Marshall) and (Director of Operations) Sean (May) were like, ‘When are you going to hit a shot again?’ And I didn’t realize it because I was in the moment and we were winning games anyway. As long as we win, I don’t care about anything personal. So I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ And they said, ‘Let’s go look at the last three or four games.’ And I was like 2-for-9, 1-for-6, 1-for-7. They said, ‘It’s the freshman wall. A lot of people get it. You’ve never been through a college season. You don’t know the grind of balancing classes and lifting weights and playing games.’
Q: What got you through it?
A: My coaching staff and Sean and Kendall helped me a lot. They said it’s OK. Just stay true to the process and everything will get back to normal after awhile. And it did. I kept grinding and did what I usually do, which is work hard and take every day as a challenge to get better. I’m doing that this season here too.
Q: Has the mental or physical component to the NBA been a bigger challenge for you?
A: For me, it’s been physically. Mentally, I’m good. My family is behind me. I’ve got a good supporting cast. My coaches and teammates are behind me. They teach me a lot and they believe in me. So mentally, it hasn’t been challenging for me. Physically---trying to get used to the schedule, back-to-backs, traveling so much, different and new cities---it all takes a toll on you.
Q: You’re a gym rat and you live with your brother who played. Have you had to learn to pick your spots regarding extra workouts?
A: For sure. For me now, since the season has really got going, I’ve been just getting up shots after practice. I haven’t been coming back at night. Because if I come back at night, there’s going to be teardown for my body. (Assistant) coach (Chris) Fleming kicks me out a lot or tells me not to come in. Whatever he tells me, I know he’s been around this for a long time. So I listen to him.
Q: What’s the best advice you got about the NBA?
A: The best advice for me came from (director of player development) Shawn Respert. I had played badly two games in a row. He said, ‘It’s 82 games, not 30 or 35 like in college. So just as many good games you have, you’re going to have some up-and-down games.’ As soon as he told me that, I calmed down. I’m young. I’m a rookie. I’m still learning. There are 82 games. As much as I want to, there’s no way I’m going to play good every game. There are going to be plenty where I make an impact. There are going to be some I don’t. For me, it’s having a short-term memory, shake off any bad performances, study film, learn from my mistakes and work to get better.
Q: Has anything overwhelmed you?
A: Nah, not really.
Q: Has anything surprised you?
A: I think for me it’s just the toll the season takes on your body. Coming in, I was like, ’82 games? I’m going to be cool. I’m going to be me every night.’ You’re young. You don’t know any better. But it’s not like that. You have to take your recovery serious. You gotta eat right. There’s a lot that goes into it besides just on the court. Off the court is a main ingredient also. That has surprised me.
Q: When you say take your recovery seriously, what have you done?
A: I invested in some NormaTec (compression therapy devices) at home. Resistance bands, I bought those. I never imagined myself doing this stuff. And I was never a big cold tub guy. Now I get in the cold tub and hot tub a lot more. I get treatment way more than I did in college. I’m just taking it all more seriously. In order for me to perform the way I want to perform, I have to take care of my body in a big way.
Q: How often do you talk to Coach Williams? You had that memorable moment this season when you sank an NBA-record seven 3-pointers in the fourth quarter with him at the United Center.
A: I haven’t talked to him in awhile. His season is going on and my season is going on. Coach Williams is not a big texter. I know that’s hard to believe (laughs). So it’s hard to get in contact with him sometimes. Because if he doesn’t answer the phone, there’s no way to reach him. I’m a texting type of guy. But I knew if I needed anything, he’d be there for me.
Q: Are you having fun?
A: Yeah, I’m loving it. I’m living my dream. I know there are going to be ups and downs. But who can say that they grew up and they’re living out their dream? I’m playing basketball for a living. I’m in that small percentage that’s doing this. The people around me, that’s the biggest part for me. That’s what keeps me going so hard. I want to win for my team and my teammates, but I also know I can change my family’s lives. Where I came from and what city I grew up in and how I came up, it wasn’t the best situation. For me to be able to get my mom a new house or pay off anything she needs---her car or whatever---or handle anything my brother or sister needs, I can do. That’s huge for me. So of course I’m having fun with it.
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