Thursday, July 12, 2012
James White: I'm 'not just a dunker'
By Jared Zwerling
LAS VEGAS -- When James White was younger, he earned the nickname "Flight 75" for his leaping ability. In fact, a search for his name on YouTube brings up a video highlighting several dunks he's been able to pull off from behind the foul line, including one while putting the ball between his legs.
Now that White is a Knick, he still believes his mid-air prowess overshadows other parts of his game -- and he's ready to show fans in New York that he's more of a complete player.
"A lot of things in my game get overlooked because everybody goes to YouTube and looks at the dunking, but I'm an all-around player," he said on Thursday inside UNLV's Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas, where the Knicks are participating in the NBA summer league. "Anybody who knows the game and actually has seen me play before knows that I'm actually a good player and not just a dunker. You'll see in the long run that I'm actually a good player."
Since his last short stint with the Rockets in 2009 (he also played with the Spurs in 2006-07), White said his overseas experiences in Russia and most recently in Italy helped him develop his game. For the past two years, he competed in Lega Basket Serie A, the highest level of club competition in Italian professional basketball, and he became one of the top scorers.
White led the league in 2010-11 with Dinamo Sassari, averaging 21 points per game (in a mostly transition offense), and was top three in 2011-12 with Pesaro, averaging 17.1 points per game (in more of a halfcourt offense). Not only did White prove he could adjust to two different offensive styles in Italy, he became more of a complete player, averaging about five rebounds, three assists and two steals per game.
"I learned a lot about the game over there," White said. "I was able to grow my game a lot."
The Knicks took notice earlier this year, led by the team's head international scout Kevin Wilson, and flew him in for a workout about two weeks ago at the team's training facility in Greenburgh, N.Y. Daniel Curtin, who works at the Three Eye Sports agency that represents White, said it "went great." Then last week, the Knicks offered him a one-year contract for slightly less than the veteran's minimum of $1.4 million.
"He's a young player that's really trying to break through," Mike Woodson said, "and this will give him an opportunity to get a jump on some of the veteran guys before we actually go to [training] camp. When we brought him in, we liked some of the things that he brought to the table, in terms of being able to defend that two, three position and the fact that he can score a little bit.
"He's an athletic player that can get up and down the floor, so it's just a matter of him learning the NBA game and trying to find his niche. With most young players that come in this league, you don't get an opportunity to play right off the bat. They just got to keep working until they find a team that believes in what they're doing."
Woodson said that White will be able to fill some of the void on the perimeter defensive end early in the season with Iman Shumpert out until likely January. Woodson did say that Shumpert is moving well on the court and believes he's ahead of schedule.
White has had previous ties to the Knicks through Donnie Walsh. When Walsh was working as the Pacers GM before he took the Knicks' job in 2008, he traded for the 6-7, 200-pound swingman on the night of the 2006 NBA draft. White also knows J.R. Smith from when he was with the Nuggets in 2009, as well as Carmelo Anthony from the Washington, D.C. area, where they both grew up.
White was originally not going to play on the Knicks' summer league team -- it's mostly for rookies and second-year players -- but he wanted to get a taste of Woodson's system.
"I haven't really been working out or playing too much this summer because I've been trying to rest," he said. "But I'm going to play and see where I'm at in the offense."
White said he hasn't spoken with Woodson yet about his future role with the Knicks, but he's only concerned about one thing: doing whatever he can to help the team in the limited minutes he'll initially receive. He's using Jeremy Lin's breakout this past season as motivation.
"You saw last year with Jeremy Lin just took his opportunity and made the most of it, and I'm going to do the same thing," he said. "It comes with hard work -- just coming in and just helping as much as I can on both ends of the floor and just making plays."
And with that opportunity could come something special: getting a chance to take his talents to Houston next year for the All-Star dunk contest.
"That would definitely be great, but I think that has a lot to do with getting playing time and getting opportunities to be seen," he said. "I mean, a lot of people know me as a dunker, so a lot of people already have been asking me to do it. But that's up to the league."
White said it's a "tremendous honor" to not only be back in the NBA, but suiting up for the Knicks, calling it "such a traditional program." It's sure been a long time coming. In 2001, White was one of the best high school players in the country and was named to the McDonald's All-American team along with Tyson Chandler, who was drafted second overall by the Bulls that year.
While Chandler became a starter in his rookie year, White had to first pay his dues in college, playing at Florida and Cincinnati, and then making his living around the country and world. Now, Curtin believes White is ready to play a key role off the bench for the Knicks, like Gerald Green initially did for the New Jersey (now Brooklyn) Nets last season.
"It's been a long time coming," Curtin said. "I think kind of the analogy is the Gerald Green situation. Gerald's a little bit younger and came out of high school, but the same idea. James is a super, super talent and it took him a couple of years to polish his game and develop. He's come a long way."