Bulls

NBA Draft: The two instances that sold the Bulls on Coby White

NBA Draft: The two instances that sold the Bulls on Coby White

From what Coby White, Jim Boylen and John Paxson have expressed, there appear to have been two key factors that led the Bulls to select the North Carolina point guard seventh overall on Thursday night.

The first came early in November when general manager Gar Forman was scouting the Tar Heels in Las Vegas. White was an absolute star in two games against Texas and UCLA, averaging 26.0 points on 57% shooting (16 of 28), 5.5 3-pointers on 11 of 17 shooting and 5.5 assists. White also had just four turnovers in 54 minutes and got to the free throw line 13 times.

"Gar saw Coby play out in Las Vegas early in the year and my phone was blowing up with texts from Gar. That was the moment he was on the radar for sure," Paxson said. "It was Gar seeing Coby in Las Vegas that got the antenna up."

Paxson also referenced White's success against Duke as attention-grabbing. White struggled in the first of three matchups against the Blue Devils, scoring just nine points on 3 of 14 shooting. But White responded at home with a 21-point outing in Game 2, and in the ACC Championship Game tallied 11 points, 5 rebounds 4 assists and 3 steals in 38 minutes.

"He talked about it when we did our background that he wasn’t’ going to have that happen again," Paxson said of White's initial clunker against Duke, "and the next two times he played Duke, he had really good games and learned from it. That’s what so much of this is about."

That second Duke game - a game the Tar Heels won, 79-70, over the Zion-less Blue Devils - was also the moment White began feeling like he might be a one-and-done prospect. He didn't arrive in Raleigh feeling that way, but the 21-point effort on 8 of 18 shooting (and a career-high 3 blocks) put the thought in his head. It was part of a dominant stretch that included 34 points against Syracuse, 28 more against Clemson and, five days after the Duke game, 19 points against Louisville in the ACC Tournament.

"I think it changed after we played Duke at home," White said. "I started to get a lot of buzz, started getting on draft boards in the top 10. And then kind of after the season, I talked to Coach (Roy) Williams before anyone, and he kind of gave me his blessing, saying that I should go. After that it was kind of an easy decision for me."

The other instance that brought White to Chicago was a pre-draft meeting on the Saturday before the NBA Draft. White arrived in Chicago and, despite opting not to work out privately for the Bulls, did meet with Paxson and Boylen. Both Paxson and White described that interview as a telling sign of the mutual interest, and Boylen reiterated that impressive interaction on Monday when White was introduced to the media at the Advocate Center.

“He looks you in the eye when you talk to him. He’s coachable. He has a soul and a spirit, which I think is important, and he’s been just awesome to deal with,” Boylen said. “We had a great meeting. It was great for both of us.”

White described that meeting with Boylen as the best he had with any coach in the pre-draft process. Paxson said White was “anxious for more” after the coaching Boylen did in that meeting, with the two looking at both good and bad film from White’s freshman season.

It all culminated in Thursday night’s selection. With both Darius Garland and Jarrett Culver off the board, the Bulls drafted for both talent and need in selecting White. He isn’t a traditional point guard – his 24.7% assist rate is evidence of that – but he gives the Bulls both a dynamic scorer and someone to push the ball in transition. Paxson said as much on Thursday and Boylen doubled down on that assessment four days later.

“Well I think the most important thing for us is when the ball is in his hands. We have to run with him. We want to play faster. We want to play smart, but we want to play faster when it's appropriate. He's a guy that can make decisions on the move. We've got to get the rest of our team to run with him. That's going to be our job, and I'm excited for that.”

White will also give the Bulls a floor spacer – he shot 35.3% from deep as a freshman – at the position, something they desperately needed the past few years. He’s hardly a finished product but should get the chance to improve right away, whether it’s as a starter or backing up a free agent acquisition in July.

But Boylen applauded White’s desire to get better, something that rubbed off in that pre-draft interview. White had a direct answer when asked what he needs to improve on in his rookie season.

“Coming in, decision-making. The league is ball screen-heavy so decisions off ball screens. At Carolina, coaches kind of wanted me to really just go one speed and that’s fast all the time,” White said. “I think coming into the league, I can use my change of speed and change of pace better. I’ve been trying to work on that a lot. Those two things are really key for me.”

Finding talent was key for the Bulls after a 22-win season. But they’re also thrilled with the personalities and workers they found in both White and second-round pick Daniel Gafford.

“We drafted these guys because of their ability to be coached and be teachable,” Boylen said. “Everything we got back on their background was teachable, coachable, want to get better, care for their teammates. Those are the kind of guys we targeted.”

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Remembering the Legacy of Kobe Bryant

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Remembering the Legacy of Kobe Bryant

SportsTalk Live is at the United Center as the NBA continues to mourn the tragic loss of Kobe Bryant. David Haugh and Jason Goff join Leila Rahimi on the panel.

0:00- Will Perdue joins the show to share his memories of Kobe and discuss how much of an idol he was for today's players

15:00- Leila, David and Jason discuss the impact Bryant's death had on them at a personal level

18:00- Kendall Gill joins the show to talk about Kobe's work ethic and the chats he would have with the legend long before the games they played against each other

Listen here or in the embedded player below.

Sports Talk Live Podcast

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Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.

 

Gregg Popovich reflects on Kobe Bryant and daughter Gianna's tragic passing

Gregg Popovich reflects on Kobe Bryant and daughter Gianna's tragic passing

In the wake of Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna's tragic passing, touching tributes have abounded around the country and world. Last night and throughout pregame of a matchup with the San Antonio Spurs, the Bulls organization and fans decorated the United Center — inside and out — in Bryant's honor. 

Before the game, one which feels hollow in the scope of the events of the past 48 hours, Gregg Popovich offered reflections on his time knowing Bryant. Popovich's Spurs and Bryant's Lakers battled numerous times throughout the aughts and early 2010s, but he said his most poignant memories of Bryant go beyond the hardwood.

"He was somebody that I always respected just because he was so much more than a basketball player. He was highly intelligent, inquisitive, curious. We all know about his competitiveness, but he was a strategist. He focused. He was driven. And would have been successful no matter what he chose to do in life," Popovich said. "We all remember the on-court, but to me, the special parts will be the very few times I was able to spend time with him off the court and have discussions with him just one-on-one for a variety of different reasons.

"We all have special thoughts of him to varying degrees no matter whether you knew him a little bit or not at all, even the millions that admired him and cherished just knowing you could watch a game with him in it. You feel like he was your own. That's when happens when you're iconic and you're basically a superhero."

The impact of this loss is felt more deeply because of how many lives Bryant touched in his all-too-few 41 years.

"I think it's pretty obvious what Kobe's impact was on the league. Millions of people. On each team, the young kids on your team idolized him and looked up to him," Popovich said. "And the older ones knew him and talked to him and had relationships with him. So, no matter which one of those groups you belong to, it was a tragic shock, obviously, because it was so unexpected. You don't dream of things like that."

Popovich also extended further condolences to all families affected by the tragedy.

"There are no words to adequately describe such a horrific event, I don't think," he said. "You just offer your heartfelt sympathies to the Bryant family and to all the other families, and all we can all do is just hope that at some point in life they find some peace and some understanding. That's all you can do."

The Spurs went on as scheduled for a game with the Toronto Raptors on Sunday, one which took place mere hours after news broke of Bryant's passing. It was one of eight games to take place that night, all wracked by grief that isn't likely to subside soon.

"I don't think anybody was," Popovich said when asked if he felt they were able to play their best game so soon after learning the news. "It didn't matter whether it was us or Toronto, I think everybody was in a little bit of a fog, which was expected.

"I think it'll still take some time, especially for the guys that knew him the best. To get back whole, just mentally and psychologically, emotionally more than anything. It's a tough thing."

Tonight, Jim Boylen said the Bulls and Spurs plan to honor Bryant with 8- and 24-second violations to start the game. The Bulls will also show a tribute video.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.