D-League: Royce White’s Leap Of Faith
Senior NBA Writer & College Basketball Editor
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Just a few weeks ago winning the lottery seemed more probable than seeing Houston Rockets rookie Royce White play for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, the Rockets’ D-League affiliate. The Rockets had tried to assign him before, but White refused to report as a part of his ongoing crusade for the NBA to improve their mental health crusade.
The issues that caused White to risk suspension and make him a beacon for criticism still remain. Yet, on Tuesday night he took the floor at State Farm Arena while donning a Vipers jersey.
“We just had a lot of discussions,” White said to HOOPSWORLD. “It was a 2 ½ month process where we just went back and forth and back and forth and eventually I said hey listen I’m going to go down there in good faith even though we don’t necessarily have the protocol that I wanted in place or the protocol that was suggested, but hopefully this move, me coming down here and doing my part in good faith that the league, not just the Rockets, will make a good effort in trying to make sure that everything is place to make people like me safe.”
The Vipers cruised to an easy 139-122 victory over the Maine Red Claws and White played 18 minutes, tallying seven points, eight rebounds and four assists.
“It was good,” White said. “I started a little slow, got a cramp in my quad later in the game. I tried to play through it but it felt good just to be out there playing and all the stuff. We won, we shot so good, played so well. It was a fun experience.
“It feels great. I don’t just belong to the game of basketball, but it does feel great when I’m here. It’s two hours, three hours while I’m here. I like to enjoy it and I did tonight.”
When asked to grade his play as an individual, White was less positive.
“F,” White said. “I didn’t play well. Three turnovers, I always want to keep the ratio a little bit lower than that. I like to think of myself as a point guard and that’s just not going to cut it.
“I don’t really cut myself slack. When it comes to the court I keep my standards really high. The way I played tonight, if we didn’t play so well around me I couldn’t have carried the team.”
White was one of three Rockets’ assignees on the Vipers’ roster along with Terrence Jones and Greg Smith. White seems best suited to play the power forward position, but has always shied away from being pigeonholed into one spot in particular. That outlook paid off well for him on a Vipers team that is stacked on the frontline without Smith and Jones with Vernon Macklin, Hassan Whiteside and Tim Ohlbrecht.
“He’s kind of a positionless guy,” Vipers head coach Nick Nurse said. “We kind of run a system where if you can handle it in the open floor and grab it off the glass you can bring it. We run a four out system, so you have to find the opening and which spot isn’t filled. It doesn’t matter if you’re a corner, wing or trail man. So he can fit in with that, we want to keep the ball in his hands. He delivers a lot of passes. The best way to do that is for him to rebound and bring it. I think that will showcase his talents the best.”
White, who has been away from the Rockets since early on in preseason, clearly was far from being in basketball shape. He started to breath heavily after five minutes of action, but definitely looked his best when he looked to create for his teammates off of the dribble.
“Part of me really feels comfortable with the ball in my hands, obviously, at the one spot. Really the trail spot can become the one spot as you saw today. Some point guards like to pressure the one and they throw it back to me to release that pressure and I become the one. I feel comfortable in that spot because I can see the whole court and kind of initiate the offense and things like that. I like that spot but I don’t mind playing any spot really.”
Moving forward, White’s main goal is to get his body back to where it was at this time last year when he was establishing himself as one of the best players in the nation and a top-ranked draft prospect. His weight is still around the 270 mark that he’s accustomed to playing at, but he’s not as defined.
“I just want to get back in shape,” White said. “I just want to get my wind up and tone out muscle wise, keep lifting, getting on a good eating regime and getting my sleep routine back since this whole thing happened. Hopefully if I can do that I can make the move to get back to the team and help out.”
Playing for the Vipers was the first step in the right direction for White eventually joining back up with the Rockets. However, there is still a long way to go before that happens. So long that White isn’t even ready to say with certainty that it will even happen.
“I have no expectations basketball wise,” White said. “It’s been such a roller coaster, whirlwind. I’m just going to do what I’m going to do. There’s a lot of other things in my life that I have a lot more influence on, mental health awareness and things like that. I’m really focused on the things I can control. The things I can’t, I’m just along for the ride.”
If that ride takes White back up north to Houston, he has the confidence that he can help the Rockets, who are surprisingly vying for a playoff spot.
“I always feel like I can help a team,” White said. “I’m a pass first guy. There are not many pass first guys. I feel like I can help make things easier for James [Harden], Jeremy [Lin] or whoever else. Hopefully down the line here the Rockets feel the same way.”
Watch the video below to see White in action for the first time with the Vipers!