Randy White shares this tale with Karl Malone, and neither of them is exactly thrilled about it. Already they share the same homespun background (small-town Louisiana), the same alma mater (Louisiana Tech) and the same attitude (aggressive). Both men are also versatile enough to play either the small-forward or power-forward position. True, White admires, even idolizes, Malone. And yes, Malone likes White and is happy to encourage him. But they get mentioned in the same breath so often these days, it's as if no one can inhale one name without exhaling the other. That entanglement is tiresome to them both.
Self-assured and charismatic, Malone, a.k.a. the Mailman, is the Utah Jazz's menacing 6'9", 254-pound, bench-pressing benchmark for NBA musclemen. Tell him that the topic of discussion is White and he'll tell you he has heard it all before. "If you knew how many people are doing that, comparing him to me," Malone says. "Give him his time. People aren't saying enough for his game." White, 21, is 6'8" and 245 frisky pounds. Like Malone, he is earnest, easygoing and not at all flashy. Occasionally, he takes on the doleful look that Dave Nitz, who broadcasts Tech games, called Moo Cow Eyes. Suggest that a meeting might be arranged between him and Malone and he begs with those baby browns. "Do we need to do that?" he says.
Maybe not, but the fact that their names are so often linked does help explain why on June 27, White, a relative unknown who wasn't even invited to the U.S. Olympic Trials last summer, will join such luminaries as Sean Elliott and Danny Ferry as lottery picks in the NBA draft (box, page 60). For White, standing under such a spotlight was once something so farfetched that he didn't even dream about it when he entered college. But the moment will pass, the questions will come, and White will have to explain—yet again—how it feels to be the Mailkid or Karl McClone. He will be annoyed but will respond like any average, pleasant fellow who is haunted by his idol.
In his heart, White appreciates that Malone has been a central figure in his development. Since the summer of 1987, when they occasionally worked out together, the Mailman's advice and accomplishments have inspired White. This summer, White is living in Malone's adopted city of Dallas and training with Ken Roberson, a former hurdler and hoopster at Louisiana Tech, who devised the running and weight-lifting regimen that helped sculpt Malone's physique. But all things considered, White's almost umbilical linkage with Malone has been a mixture of blessing and burden.
"At first I took it as a compliment to be compared to the best forward in the league," White says. "But if you hear it every day, it doesn't matter if you're being compared to Michael Jordan—it can get pretty old."
Malone and White are not so much friends as role model and student. Says the Mailman, "Sure, we've got a relationship. We just don't need everyone to know about it."
At the Orlando Classic, a predraft showcase in April, some of White's fellow phenoms kiddingly called him Karl Junior. But White's abilities were no joke, as the NBA bigwigs soon discovered. In three games against top competition, he averaged 20.3 points and 11.7 rebounds while demonstrating a mauling inside game complemented by a feathery touch from three-point range.
There are also a lot of NBA teams that don't want to repeat the mistakes they made four years ago, when the likes of Benoit Benjamin (L.A. Clippers), Jon Koncak (Atlanta Hawks), Detlef Schrempf (Dallas Mavericks) and Kenny Green (Washington Bullets) were drafted before Malone was chosen by Utah with the 13th pick. Says Pat Williams, general manager of the Orlando Magic: "Teams are thinking, Here we go again. We really messed up the first time by passing on Karl. Now there's a chance to redeem ourselves."
Malone grew up in Summerfield, La. (pop. 150), and is very close to his mother, Shirley. White grew up in Keithville, La. (pop. 180), and is very close to his mother, Shirley. Keithville sits among tall pines and lush greenery 10 minutes west of Shreveport. White's dad, William, a truck driver, was known around Keithville for both his nickname, Baba (pronounced bay-bay), and his 6'7", 240-pound frame. A wily basketball player, Baba regularly held forth on a dirt court next to his house. He and his friends would play on the dusty court until the sky and their socks turned black. The senior White died of a pulmonary embolism when Randy was a sophomore at Shreveport's Huntington High and the boy's skills were just beginning to blossom.
One of Baba's passions was cattle, and he usually had a dozen head roaming his 32 acres. While Randy was fond of his pet Brahma bull, Danny, he wasn't much interested in playing cowboy, so he played sports to get out of chores.
During his senior year White narrowed his choice of colleges to McNeese State and Louisiana Tech. About the time White was getting ready to depart from high school, Malone decided to forgo his senior season at Tech for the NBA. White took up the Mailman's old zip code in Ruston. It was as if the town wasn't big enough for them both. White was immediately heralded as the heir to King Karl, even though at the time he gave away three inches and 45 pounds to Malone. Shirley White shuddered at the thought that her "bird-chested boy," who always called home if he was going to stay out past midnight, would succeed Malone. "I couldn't see my baby replacing that big old kid," she says. "Oh, that kid was big!"
Randy recalls being "like, totally, totally blown away" by all the Mailman hype surrounding his arrival at Tech. Shirley counseled him: "Don't put pressure on yourself to match him or try to be as good as he is."
Auburn coach Tommy Joe Eagles, then the coach at Louisiana Tech, was also quick to shelter White. "I knew protecting him would be critical to his development." says Eagles. "I knew he was going to be a very good player in his own right."
Through it all, White flourished. He started as a freshman and averaged 12.6 points and 6.5 rebounds as a sophomore. The following summer, he and teammate Kelvin Lewis drove White's Camaro to Dallas, where they worked on a construction crew and played in a tough pro-am league. While there they looked up Malone, who invited them to train with him. That, the two young players soon discovered, entailed getting up at 5 a.m., running sprints and then going to a gym, where Malone stunned his new companions by pumping iron nonstop for three hours. "He's a mad dog on weights." White says. "He'd say, 'You've got to come on, you've got to pick it up.' He'd call me lazy. Only the strong survive in the NBA: that's his attitude."
Studying the secret of Malone's success, White learned that muscular players who run the floor with abandon and do not run away from contact are handsomely rewarded in the pros. "Randy came home one day, and I can remember what he said almost word for word." Lewis recalls. "He said, 'Karl's big, he's physical, he's strong, he's doing well for himself doing what he wants to do, and making money doing it. That's what I want to do.' "
Malone also urged White to seek out the toughest competition. White listened, and learned. "I saw that I could play with these guys in the summer league," he says. "And if these guys could play in the NBA, then maybe I could, too." At times he even went head-to-head with Malone, and more than held his own. "If he and Karl ever played one-on-one again, I'd be selling tickets," says Roberson.
When White returned to campus for his junior season, he had filled out by 15 pounds, to 235: most of the extra weight was in his upper body. He finished the 1987-88 season sixth in the country in rebounding (11.6 per game) and seventh in field goal percentage (63.8%), and he averaged 18.6 points. He followed that up with a senior season in which he averaged 10.5 boards and 21.2 points and shot 60%. Throughout the '88-89 season, the Tech sports information department sent out fliers proclaiming him AMERICA'S BEST UNKNOWN PLAYER and THE BEST PLAYER YOU'VE NEVER HEARD OF. However, he did not escape the probing eyes of pro scouts looking for, say, the next Karl Malone. "He was a household name in the NBA," says superscout Marty Blake.
Those who have charted the careers of White and Malone say that White's skills are more developed than Malone's were at the same stage. White is a better ball handler and a better shooter, and he has a more polished array of inside moves. As a rebounder White might also rate a slight edge, and Lewis believes his work ethic is even more rigorous than Malone's. But the Mailman's hunger—and with it, his skills—seemed to expand exponentially in the NBA. Malone now has no peer at sprinting from baseline to baseline; only a handful of courageous, well-insured players will stand their ground and absorb his charges. For some NBA executives, Malone's success raises a couple of questions about White. Says Jerry Loyd, the current Tech coach, "Is Randy tough enough? Yes. Is he ornery enough? Maybe."
White and Roberson start their weekday workouts at 6:30 a.m. on a track at SMU. There Roberson puts him through a series of stretching exercises and 200- to 600-yard sprints, teaching him to run with lightness and flexibility. Then it's on to the weight room for a three-hour session, followed by some one-on-one and an evening 15-mile bike ride. "I started with Karl and liked the results." says Roberson. "If I can do the same thing with Randy, we'll have a monster."
Malone's self-confidence has rubbed off on his protègè, as White's assessments of some of his fellow draftables reveal. On Oklahoma center Stacey King: "He doesn't impress me at all." On Michigan forward Glen Rice: "Basically, he's a shooter, and that's all I see." On Duke forward Danny Ferry: "If he's the best player, then I'm the second-best."
When White isn't handicapping the competition, two of his favorite haunts in Ruston are Extra Play, a video parlor and poolroom, and Leisure Lanes, the 10-lane alley where he bowls without using his ball's thumb hole. He also likes to spend time with his girlfriend. Rena Hadnot, a senior history student at Tech. Shortly after they met, 14 months ago, she called White to tease him about a newspaper story she had read in which he vehemently discouraged comparisons with Malone and talked about wanting his own identity. "I called to make a joke about it," says Hadnot, "but it wasn't a joke to him."
Soon the greater basketball public will find out just who White is and, maybe more important, who he isn't. "I think Karl would be the best example of how I want to be," he says. "But I don't want to be Karl Malone Jr. I want to be Randy White."
The NBA is big enough for them both.
TAKE YOUR PICK
Expect much shuffling to go on before and even during the NBA draft, which takes place on June 27. Golden State, Portland and Seattle each have two first-round choices and might deal for higher picks. There are several likely targets for such a swap, including Sacramento, which has been listening to bids for its No. 1 pick. Oh, yes, there is one other big question: Just who will be chosen No. 1?
Every NBA executive has a different projection for the draft. Hank Hersch looks into one murky crystal ball.
Danny Ferry, 6'10", F, DUKE
An all-around frontcourt player, but do the Kings have the guts to pass on Sean Elliott?
2 LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
Sean Elliott, 6'8", F-G, ARIZONA
The draft's most polished talent can play three positions and would help even this bunch
3 SAN ANTONIO
Pervis Ellison, 6'9", F, LOUISVILLE
With Terry Cummings and David Robinson, the Spurs would have a new and improved frontcourt
Glen Rice, 6'7", F, MICHIGAN
This brilliant jump shooter would mean instant offense for the tepid Heat; may take Stacey King
Stacey King, 6'10", F, OKLAHOMA
If King is gone, Hornets would pick local hero-enigma J.R. Reid; may pick Reid anyway
6 CHICAGO (pick from New Jersey)
Randy White, 6'8", F, LOUISIANA TECH
Strong inside; his outside shooting would open up the court for Michael Jordan
George McCloud, 6'6", G, FLORIDA STATE
He's a gamble as a point guard but would give the Pacers' anemic backcourt a boost
J.R. Reid, 6'9", F, NORTH CAROLINA
J.R. and Dallas are a natural match; Gary Leonard and Nick Anderson are possible too
Tom Hammonds, 6'9", F, GEORGIA TECH
Should be a star at power forward; an exceptional turnaround jump shooter
Todd Lichti, 6'4", G, STANFORD
Solid; he could be the ideal player to build a franchise around
Gary Leonard, 7'1", C, MISSOURI
A project an expansion team may not want to gamble on (see: Ron Seikaly's fizzle in Miami)
Nick Anderson, 6'6", F, ILLINOIS
Exciting player who would complement Clyde Drexler; too good to pass up
Michael Smith, 6'10", F, BYU
He would lift the Celtics' aging frontcourt, but Boston also needs help at the point
14 GOLDEN STATE
Vlade Divac, 6'11", F-C, YUGOSLAVIA
Not a power player, but mobile; general manager Don Nelson will find a way to sign him
Mookie Blaylock, 6'1", G, OKLAHOMA
Nuggets may take this playmaker despite their needs upfront; Tim Hardaway is a possibility
16 GOLDEN STATE (from Houston)
Tim Hardaway, 6', G, UTEP
If Warriors sign Soviet playmaker Sharunas Marchulenis, they'll go for a big man instead
17 SEATTLE (from Philadelphia)
B.J. Armstrong, 6'2", G, IOWA
Sonics would get someone who can glue the team together and stick the open jumper
18 SEATTLE (from Chicago)
Kenny Battle, 6'6", F, ILLINOIS
He's a Dennis Rodman type whose frenzied play would spark the Sonics
19 PHILADELPHIA (from Seattle)
Pooh Richardson, 6'1", G, UCLA
To succeed Maurice Cheeks; or Connecticut's Cliff Robinson to succeed Cliff Robinson
20 CHICAGO (from Milwaukee, through Seattle)
Sherman Douglas, 6', G, SYRACUSE
May not go this high, but drafting a playmaker would let Jordan return to shooting guard
Roy Marble, 6'6", G, IOWA
Would shore up off-guard spot and fit into the Jazz's hard-nosed defensive style
22 PORTLAND (from New York)
Cliff Robinson, 6'11", F, CONNECTICUT
If a good point guard is left, the Trail Blazers might go that route
Byron Irvin, 6'5", G, MISSOURI
After losing Reggie Theus, the Hawks are desperate for guards, and Irvin would fill the bill
Jeff Sanders, 6'8", F, GA. SOUTHERN
Arizona's Anthony Cook has local appeal, but Sanders would bring more offense
Jay Edwards, 6'4", G, INDIANA
A risky pick, but he has a long-range shot: could learn from coach Lenny Wilkens
26 LOS ANGELES LAKERS
Dana Barros, 5'11", G, BOSTON COLLEGE
With Michael Cooper aging and David Rivers gone to Minnesota, L.A. needs guards
Ed Horton, 6'8", F, IOWA
After the loss of Rick Ma horn to Minnesota, the Pistons need a new mean, wide body