Paul Klee: From RMAC to Pac-12, Derrick White a Colorado story for the ages
BOULDER — Where would the Buffs be without the guy who's too skinny, too under-recruited, too unproven, too Division II?
Where would they be without Derrick White?
"I don't even want to go there," Tad Boyle said after White capped the finest individual season in Boyle's robust tenure as Colorado's coach with another big-boy performance, this time on his Senior Day. "We would not be as good as we are. He's a really special player."
It's not that White met expectations during his only regular season at the Division I level.
My man blew them away.
Get a load of these conference numbers from the UCCS transfer, who treated the Pac-12 the same way he treated the RMAC, with no mercy: 18.6 points per game, third in the league; 4.6 assists, fourth in the league; 1.5 steals, ninth in the league; 1.5 blocks, fifth in the league.
"We would not be 18-13 (without him)," Boyle said. "I'm not sure we'd have a winning record."
All White was missing was a sidekick and total buy-in from the entire senior class. With a nod of respect to another man forever tied to Colorado Springs, Lewis-Palmer's Josh Scott, White has been the best player at Coors Events Center for two years. Bummer they couldn't play together in games, only in practice, as White sat out the 2015-16 season due to NCAA rules.
It was only fitting that White saved the Buffs' bacon in the season finale, a 54-46 win against Cal in front of 8,392 on Saturday. He's done so all season. With 20 seconds on the game clock and 2 on the shot clock, White turned a slippery three-point lead into a six-point lead. His 3-pointer from directly in front of the CU bench swished through as if the net wasn't even there. White responded with a Jordan shoulder shrug as he back-pedaled down the court to a standing ovation.
"Needed that one," he said after piling up 17 points, eight rebounds and four assists.
Not as much as CU needed him.
Too often the Buffs play entitled basketball, as if several years of success guarantee several more to come. But the relentless Pac-12 schedule — minus a Beaver here or a Coug there — buried the Buffs beneath an 0-7 conference record. And it was a telling sign there was a lack of commitment when Boyle had to suspend a pair of seniors, Sierra alum Wesley Gordon and Xavier Johnson, for an undisclosed violation of team rules in early February.
Seriously, guys? With six weeks left in your careers? There are teenagers balling out in the CHSAA state tournament who would give up prom to play one possession of Pac-12 hoops.
Boyle is the best coach in program history with a Top 25 recruiting class arriving for next season. The 8-3 finish says more about his coaching ability than the 0-7 start, when the veterans weren't holding up their end of the bargain. Still, this is twice in three seasons CU Hoops has looked more like CU Country Club, a cushy place where players go to coast instead of compete. With 20-20 hindsight and Colorado State playing in the de facto Mountain West title game Saturday, the CU-CSU game in Boulder exemplified their attitudes as a whole: One plays pretty, one plays gritty.
That score: CSU 72, CU 58.
Funny how the guy who spent only one season in black and gold showed the most pride in wearing the jersey.
"He's one of the top five players in our league. I believe that," Boyle said. "You look around and (Washington guard) Markelle Fultz is good and (UCLA guard) Lonzo Ball is good. But I'm not sure, if there's an expansion draft, I would trade him for everybody."
There's a lesson in White's story, and it's obvious as his deserving selection to the Pac-12's all-conference and all-defensive teams: whether it's Division II ball in the faraway outposts of the RMAC or under the bright lights of the Pac-12, if you can play, you can play.
"I heard it all the time: 'You're in D-2 for a reason' and 'he probably won't be able to translate to this level'," White said. "I've had doubters my whole life. It's what drives you."
That bad man can play.