- Coby White is expected to be one of the first players selected at the 2019 NBA draft but it hasn't always been this way. The UNC star spoke to The Crossover about his basketball rise, draft day style and more.
In a few days, Coby White will take the next step in his basketball career. The North Carolina product’s journey thus far has earned him status as a potential star in the making; the 6'5", 185-pound White represents a premier prospect who fits the rare mold of tall point guards possessing blistering speed who can score almost at will.
Though White’s rise has been rapid, he hasn’t reached this point without overcoming obstacles along the way. For all the work he’s invested into his development, he believes hearing his name called on June 20th is just the beginning of something special. Ahead of the draft, White spoke with Sports Illustrated to discuss his pre-draft process, standing out on the floor, and what it will mean to hear his name finally called by the commissioner on Thursday night.
Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Kaelen Jones: So, the draft is almost here. How’s the pre-draft process treating you?
Coby White: Everything’s been going good. I’ve been enjoying this pre-draft process. Working out everyday, staying up on the grind. It feels crazy. It still hasn’t hit me yet that I’m going to be in the NBA and, at that, being a top draft pick, that still hasn’t hit me yet. I’m just enjoying it, living in the moment. I can’t wait for June 20th.
KJ: What’s been your favorite thing about the pre-draft process and what’s stood out most?
CW: I think that the biggest thing about this process right now has been how much you can just focus on getting better. All throughout my life now, I have had bigger things [to worry about]. Like, school was a big part of my life. It was school before basketball until now. Now, I can just focus everyday on getting better and bettering myself as a basketball player. That’s been the most fun part for me, that I can lock in on one thing now.
KJ: When did you realize you could make a living out of playing basketball?
CW: I think it was my senior year of high school. I was playing at the John Wall Invitational in Raleigh, North Carolina. It was a big tournament. A lot of top teams go there. We played three games, and I think I beat out JamesOn Curry for the scoring record in those three games. After that, I reflected on it. I was looking at highlights and stuff, and I was like, ‘I look… pretty good.’ And I was like, maybe one day [I could go pro]. A lot of people were telling me, ‘Hey, you can go to the NBA!’ But I didn’t really believe them. I didn’t pay it no mind. But, then it was in the back of my mind that maybe I am good enough to make it where I am.
KJ: Considering the history and the caliber of players who have played at North Carolina, how did you approach playing there without worrying about playing in anyone's shadow?
CW: I think I just stayed true to myself and believed in myself, and had the ultimate confidence in me. Coming in, I never set individual goals or set individual things for me. I knew at the end of the day, the main reason I picked North Carolina was because they have a winning tradition and I love to win. I just wanted to go there and fulfill my goal of winning a national championship. I think just me being myself is what got me where I am. I’ve never changed anything about me coming in. I just stayed true to myself. Everything worked itself out.
KJ: How did playing at UNC prepare you for the NBA?
CW: With people on your side like coach [Roy] Williams—who’s one of the greatest coaches to ever do it—teaching you how to be a better point guard and just teaching you the ins and outs of the game. I had Kendall Marshall, who was one of the greatest point guards to ever come through North Carolina and played in the league. To be able to pick his brain and watch film with him and go over different stuff and having him there to work you out and stuff like that, I think all of that turned itself into a big help for me. As the season went on, like I said, everybody said I got better and became more of a point guard than I was coming in. With the help of coach Williams and the coaching staff and Kendall, those were big reasons for it.
KJ: How would you describe your skillset and what do you think separates you from other players in your draft class?
CW: I think that I can pass the ball in any way. At my size, how fast I am, I can play with the ball and without the ball. I think just the energy and how hard I play on the court is what really separates me. I think I’m the most competitive player in my class. And I have that will to win.
KJ: Your play obviously is enough to make you stand out, but your hair makes you pretty noticeable, too. How long have you been growing it out? And did you ever consider doing twists or dreads?
CW: I’ve been growing it out since I was a freshman in high school. This past year, I played a couple games with twists in. I switched it up here and there, because, I’m not gonna lie, when you’ve got this much hair, keeping up with it and maintaining it becomes sort of a hassle sometimes. So it gets pretty annoying. When it gets annoying, I’ll just try to twist it. And then when the twists are in, I can just wake up and not do anything to it. I had a couple games where I had it twisted and pulled back though. I’ll twist it up here and there, but nothing crazy like braids or anything.
KJ: Do your friends or family ever make any comments about your hair-do?
CW: For the most part, they’re cool about it. I mean, everybody loves it. When I first started though, my mom was kinda thrown off by it and my dad was really off it. But my mom came around, and eventually my dad realized that I wasn’t going to cut it, so he finally gave in.
KJ: Keeping with the subject of appearance, anything special planned for your draft outfit? Any inspirations behind it?
CW: For my draft suit, I’m going to be wearing a fully-customized draft suit that’s only exclusively available at JCPenney. It’s going to be customized and especially made for me. The inside on the lining is going to have cancer awareness ribbons for cancer awareness. Not only for that, but for the memory of my dad. It’s a way to having him there with me on draft night.
Note: White’s father, Donald, passed away on August 15, 2017, following a battle with liver cancer. White has also lost an uncle and two aunts to cancer. White wore pink shoes throughout his lone season at UNC to honor those fighting cancer.
KJ: What will it mean for you to finally be drafted?
CW: It’s going to mean a lot. It’s definitely going to be a blessing. I’m going to be super excited. I’m going to be humble about it, but at the same time, I know that’s it’s only going to be the beginning. I still have a lot more to accomplish in life, and this is just the beginning for me, and there’s going to be a lot more to accomplish. It’s definitely going to be a blessing to hear my name called and a lot of emotions are going to be running through my body.