Thursday, April 05, 2007

HAD to paste this article in...

White waits patiently for time with Spurs

Web Posted: 03/27/2007 11:53 PM CDT

Johnny Ludden

Michael Finley saw enough highlights of this season's dunk contest to know this much: Had Spurs rookie James White been in the event, he would have won.

"Seriously," Finley said. "The dunk contest has come to a point where we've seen everything. But he has dunks that people haven't seen."

Finley said he has seen White take off from the free-throw line and put the ball between his legs before flushing it through the rim. He also claims White can throw down a two-handed dunk from the foul line.

"Nobody's seen that," Finley said.

Aside from the Spurs, nobody's seen White doing much of anything this season.

Since signing with the Spurs on Nov. 3, White has performed most of his work at the team's practice facility or in the NBDL. Almost all of his court time on game days has come during private workouts long before fans are allowed into the arena.

That changed Monday when Robert Horry was placed on the inactive list after suffering an abdominal injury the previous night in Seattle. With about three minutes left in the third quarter and the Spurs well on their way to a 126-89 victory over Golden State, White made his NBA debut. He finished with nine points and three rebounds in 15 minutes.

"It's got to be hard for him after a whole year waiting for this," Manu Ginobili said. "He did very good, so we're all happy for him. It's not easy to be on a team and never have the opportunity to play."

White also doesn't know when his next chance will come. If Horry's injury has healed or coach Gregg Popovich decides the team could need Melvin Ely's size tonight against the New Orleans Hornets, White will go back to his familiar seat behind the bench.

"You have to approach it as a job," White said. "It's my job to stay professional, go out there and come to work every day like nothing has changed. You never know when you'll get your opportunity to play.

"Basketball is fun; you can't beat that as a job."

So far, that attitude has served White well. Spurs officials, while acknowledging they might have to wait until summer league to better evaluate White, are pleased with how he's fit in the locker room.

White also handled his two assignments to the Development League fairly well, averaging 16.3 points on 47.7 percent shooting in 15 games for the Austin Toros. With minutes few and far between on a veteran-heavy Spurs roster, he has spent some of his time working with shooting coach Chip Engelland.

"I've improved so much since I've been here," White said. "My shot, my mental preparation, my professionalism — everything basketball-wise, I've gotten better."

While White needs to continue working on his fundamentals, no one has ever questioned he has the athleticism to succeed in the NBA. His leaping ability is extraordinary, and some among the Spurs rank him alongside David Robinson as one of the franchise's greatest athletes. Before he had even finished his college career at Cincinnati, "Flight" White's impressive dunks had made him a YouTube star.

Some NBA scouts thought White had the potential to be a first-round selection last summer. He lasted until the opening pick of the second round when Portland chose him and immediately traded him to Indiana. The Pacers thought enough of White to give him a guaranteed two-year contract, unusual for second-round picks.

Indiana, however, was fairly well-stocked at the wing positions. Some in the organization also were rankled a little by White's attitude, which they perceived as too cocky. Called for a hand-checking foul during an exhibition game, White played the ensuing possession by holding his hands behind his back.

Still, Pacers coach Rick Carlisle called the decision to cut White at the end of the preseason one of the most difficult he has had to make.

"It was surprising at first, it took me a while to get over the shock," White said. "It kind of motivated me just like draft night. I felt like when I was drafted, I got shafted a little bit.

"When I came here, it was a whole different situation from Indiana, the tradition of winning, the professionalism of the whole team. ... I've learned something new from the older guys every day."

Finley has helped mentor White, providing a few words of advice or encouragement when appropriate.

"He's young, so he really won't appreciate this time with this team until maybe five or six years into the league," Finley said. "Hopefully, he can stay grounded and stay humble, and he'll be OK."

Popovich thought White played "pretty confidently" Monday. He rimmed out a 3-pointer for his first shot but settled down after making an easy layup off a pass from Brent Barry.

With less than 30 seconds left, White finally received an opportunity to show off his legs, jamming a lob from Fabricio Oberto through the rim. The dunk brought applause from the bench, but the Spurs also have seen better from the rookie.

"Hopefully, he'll get an opportunity to be in (the contest) next year," Finley said. "He has my vote."

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