The many shades of Royce White

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 25, 2012 - 11:29 AM

Royce White the person and Royce White the player are difficult to pin down, but there's no denying he has talent uniquely his own.

As the NFL does so famously in Indianapolis every February, the NBA invites its best draft prospects to an annual combine where players are weighed, measured, tested and questioned ad nauseum.

When Royce White traveled to Chicago earlier this month, league personnel recorded his wingspan, body fat, hand size -- a massive 11 1/2 inches across, widest among 60 attending players -- and they inquired about his dubious past and uncertain future complicated by an anxiety disorder that includes a fear of flying.

About the only thing they didn't do: Ask him to play a few bars of "Imagine" downstairs on the baby grand in the hotel lobby.

"They asked me about the piano," he said, "but they never asked me to play it right there on the spot."

Minneapolis born and raised, White is the most unique talent in this year's draft. He is a gifted 6-8 forward who tantalizes NBA scouts with ball-handling and passing skills befitting a point guard; perplexes them with his youthful decisions and medically diagnosed angst; and intrigues them with a perspective beyond his 21 years.

When somebody in Chicago asked if the bushy beard he sprouted since completing his first and only season at Iowa State is an homage to Oklahoma City Thunder player James Harden, White answered it is inspired by his ... favorite Beatle?

"John Lennon," he said. "Philosophically and inspirationally, I connect with him."

So maybe it's not surprising then that White says he taught himself to play the piano during two lost collegiate seasons and also aspires to a music career. He was suspended by the Gophers after he was arrested on a 2009 Mall of America shoplifting charge and then transferred to play for former Timberwolves player and executive Fred Hoiberg at Iowa State without ever playing a game at Williams Arena.

In one season in Ames, he delivered on the promise that made him Minnesota's 2009 Mr. Basketball and one of just 20 players nationally invited to play in the Jordan Brand Classic that year.

He also became the nation's only major-college player who led his team in five statistical categories and delivered a 10-point, 18-rebound, 10-assist triple-double against Texas A&M after Hoiberg decided to put the ball in the hands of a natural power forward.

He did so with those huge hands and a 6-8, 260-pound body that Hoiberg calls a "freight train coming down the floor."

"He's the most unique player in a long time," Hoiberg said.

On pure talent alone, White is a top 10 pick, a guy who faced Connecticut's Andre Drummond and Kentucky's Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in consecutive NCAA tournament games and just might have been the best player on the floor in both games.

But factor in a past that includes transfers in both high school (from DeLaSalle to Hopkins) and college because of disciplinary reasons and that anxiety disorder that prevented White from getting on a plane to sign with John Calipari's Kentucky team.

White said he understands why he expects to go anywhere from 10 to 30 in Thursday's draft.

"That range is wide for the right reasons," White said. "You've got risk and reward that GMs are weighing. That anxiety thing plays a factor, and what position I play. But I've pretty much proven myself against the best players in the country."

'He has grown up a lot'

White attributes his legal issues -- he was accused of stealing $100 in clothes and pushing a security guard to the ground in October 2009 and later was questioned in the theft of a laptop computer -- to teenage mistakes and reminds his past season at Iowa State was incident-free.

He calls it a maturation he attributes to time's passing and fatherhood's responsibility. He has a 16-month-old son.

"He has grown up a lot from where he was a couple years ago," Hoiberg said. "That was evident in what he did here."

White traces the "anxiety thing" to a day when he was 10 years old and his best friend collapsed beside him as both boys ran wind sprints during a youth basketball practice. It was diagnosed when he was 18 and he says medication, education and a support group of family and friends keep it in order.

"They're asking about all that," White said about interviews with teams. "I'm just trying to be as honest as possible. I have found that being honest always helps to keep my stress low. Trying to keep up with lies is very difficult. It's good for me to be able to talk about it."

White ended up at Iowa State rather than Kentucky partly because he couldn't bring himself to get on a flight to Lexington, but Hoiberg calls the national media attention White receives for his fear of flying "so blown out of proportion." He points out White flew with the Cyclones without incident on an Italian summer tour and flew with the team repeatedly this past season.

White's grandfather drove him nine hours to NCAA tournament games in Louisville, Ky., a road trip Hoiberg said he suggested only because White had played so well after making four-plus-hour car trips to Kansas State and Missouri.

"It's not so much the flying, it's getting ready to fly," White said. "If I've got a flight at 12, from 9 to 12 I'm worrying and I've got that nervous feeling in my chest and my stomach and I may get sick. All those things are what exert the energy. When I'm on the plane, I'm not panicking."

Likes the Wolves

White's life might be simplified if he were drafted by an East Coast team that plays many of its road games within driving distance. But he said if it were his choice, he would be picked 18th overall by his hometown team, the Timberwolves.

He said he sent a message via Hoiberg to Wolves President of Basketball Operations David Kahn suggesting he would give up his "right pinky toe" for the chance to return home.

"I'd definitely love to play for that city and that community, it being the city that kind of raised me," White said. "I went to a couple of games last year, sat in the crowd. That's a young, talented team. Kevin Love was one of the more impressive players I saw all year. If you can't play next to Kevin Love and [Ricky] Rubio and those guys ..."

The Wolves already have Love and his new $61 million contract at power forward. The league's only other 260-pound small forward is LeBron James, a player after whom White says he has modeled his game some.

But the Wolves also need wing players who can handle the ball and create plays, two skills that make White so unique for his size. Hoiberg said he believes White and Love could play together because of their differences, with White being a "playmaker- facilitator" who has quick feet and defends better on the perimeter than he does down low.

"I love his game," Kansas guard Tyshawn Taylor said. "He brings something a lot of guys his size don't have: He can create for others. He's got a little guy's skills in a big body, but he plays big."

Questions remain about White's defense and shooting. With those huge hands, he struggled to make 50 percent of his free throws last season.

At 21, he is also two years older than other draft prospects who played just one collegiate season. White's 2009 high-school class -- John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Derrick Favors -- all have played two NBA seasons already.

"That's a positive," he said. "I'm just a lot stronger. I'm physically ready to play. I really don't believe in potential. I only believe in production."

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