Unrecruited out of high school in Parker, Colorado, followed by three years of Div. 2 basketball at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs before transferring to Colorado for his senior season, there’s a lot about Derrick White’s story that wins over admirers quickly.
Ime Udoka, himself a small college player, developed an appreciation for the new Celtics guard in 2017, when San Antonio drafted White with the 29th pick.
“We go back to draft night, when we drafted him in San Antonio. Obviously I coached him his first two, and (Celtics assistant) Will Hardy was there longer, four years or so with him and then I had him with the USA Basketball team,” said Udoka. “I don’t know how much you guys know about his story, where he came from, Division (2), coming up the ranks, playing one year at Colorado.
“So we really liked his story coming out in the draft, his perseverance, the leap that he took to the Div. 1 level and how successful he was. So bringing him in he was a well-rounded player right off the top, and a guy that due to age and playing four years in college was mature already coming in to contribute on a veteran team. So he checks a lot of boxes across the board, offensively, defensively, as a person, as a player. He’s someone we’re obviously happy to have.”
White, an early arrival in Boston following the trade, made his Celtics debut Friday night against Denver. Daniel Theis, back for his second stint with the Celtics, was unavailable for Friday’s game as players on both sides of the two trades took physicals.
There’s no one area that White will upgrade the Celtics. This accomplished two-way player, according to those who know him, he’ll instead impact every area.
Jayson Tatum, who expects to benefit greatly from White’s additional playmaking — already enhanced by the best point guard minutes of Marcus Smart’s career — first got to know White when they played together in the 2019 World Cup.
“D-White is a really, really good overall player at both ends of the floor,” said the Celtics star. “He can handle it, play pick-and-roll, he can shoot. Got some size to him. Just adding that to our team — another playmaker, someone who can score — just brings value.”
Brad Stevens recalls being impressed by White’s game even further back, during a summer with a U.S. select team.
“It’s interesting, we’ve thought for years that Derrick was a really good fit with our best players,” Stevens said of the 27-year-old guard. “He is an excellent defender. He just makes the right play, on offense, over and over and over. He’s a guy that only cares about winning, that will do all of the little things, as you can see in some of his stats, defensively, with regard to willingness to put his body on the line, activity, shot challenges, all of those things.
“And, on offense, just by making simple plays and doesn’t need to do anything to be on the highlights, to really really impact winning,” he said. “So we’ve kind of identified him for a long time. The first time that I got a chance to watch him for consecutive days in a row and really see even more, or pique our interest even more, was watching him with the US select team years ago. And now we felt really fortunate to be able to get a guy like that, on a long contract that we think is, again, you know, a perfect fit for our best players.”
The Fournier TPE lives on
After trading seven players on Thursday and bringing back two in the persons of White and Theis, Stevens and his staff were able to create five new trade exceptions, including a good-sized $5.9 million TPE as the result of sending Dennis Schroder to Houston as part of the Theis package.
Above all, though, Stevens was able to pocket his $17 million TPE from last summer’s Evan Fournier trade. The Celtics instead plan to use this large TPE during the summer, when they are expected to be in the hunt for impending free agent and Tatum bestie Bradley Beal.
And as Stevens continues to build around the young axis of Tatum and Jaylen Brown, he has also maintained flexibility with his roster. There was an immediate need to fill two of the five roster spots immediately, and the Celtics met that requirement by converting the two-way contract of Sam Hauser and signing fellow Maine Celtic Luke Kornet for his second stint with the parent club.
“I just think what you want to do is accentuate your best players with people that make great sense around them and have a great self awareness for who they are,” Stevens said of building around the so-called Jays. “And I think we’ve been fortunate to establish a real defensive identity and so valuing all of that and I do value the continuity aspect, especially for a new coaching staff, that’s why it’s hard to trade seven guys.
“But the core of who is playing, the core of who we will have moving forward and being able to get a couple of guys who are, again, on contracts where you can build and grow together, I think is really important. I’ve coached a lot of defenses in my life, coached some really good ones in college and some really good ones here, and I’ve never seen one this dynamic when it’s locked in. So I give Ime and his staff a lot of credit, I give the players a lot of credit, so to be able to add to that and hopefully again add the right offensive firepower to accentuate those guys are things that we valued.”
Tatum looks forward to All-Star weekend
Tatum’s second All-Star appearance, due to the nature of the COVID-restricted weekend, wasn’t quite the same as his first. And now, on the way to his third, Tatum is looking forward to a more entertaining time in Cleveland.
“I didn’t watch the whole show. I watched when they picked the starters, and I watched that segment and changed it to something else,” said Tatum, who was drafted as a starter on Team Durant. “I see who’s on our team, and I’m excited. Watching it really got me excited about next weekend, because last year we didn’t get the full experience. So looking forward to having the fans there and having the full all-star experience and everything that comes with it and the fun you’re supposed to have. So last night I got excited about it. I like our chances and we’ll be ready next Sunday.”
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