September — for the first time in so long- will be a busy month for Chicago Bulls guard Coby White.
Chicago is headed into a local mini-Bubble near the United Center, where the team will sequester off the arena so that they, like the eight other NBA squads that did not go down to Florida this summer, can practice together for the first time since March. It will be a chance for players to get their conditioning back and for teammates to keep their chemistry up with the start of the 2020-21 campaign still an open question.
As White headed back to Chicago for camp, he also partnered with the online optical brand Zenni to provide Zenni Blokz, which filter out harmful UV and blue light from digital screens, to his alma mater, Eastern Wayne Middle School in North Carolina, as well as the entire Chicago Park School District.
White caught up with Dime to look back on his rookie year, discuss his goals for Bulls camp, and chat about why it was so important for him to give back to kids in his community, both where he grew up and his new home in Chicago.
Let’s start with this partnership with Zenni. The coolest part to me was that you were able to do it not only with the community that you’re from but also the one that you joined. I’m curious how you’ve embraced Chicago that way and why it was important to you to be in both communities even as an athlete where you only play in one of those places?
I always want to give back to home because that’s a must for me. But like I always say, when I first came to Chicago, everyone embraced me. Everyone was excited I was here and embraced me as their own. For them to embrace me like they did, it’s only right to give back to the city of Chicago. Any opportunity, any chance I get to give back, that’s what I’ll do.
Thinking back to when you were a kid and going to school, seeing all these kids now who are having to learn virtually right now and wondering how parents are making it work, was that part of your desire to help out and be a helping hand with that process?
For me, I can’t imagine what the kids are going through and I can’t imagine what parents are going through. It’s so much easier to go into a classroom and be engaged and locked in, in-person, than it is to a screen with all the distractions at home. I know it’s a lot going on and it’s tough on the kids. I just tried to have a helping hand as much as possible and make that easier on the parents and the kids, too.
Congrats on making the All-Rookie team as well. What was your reaction when you found out, and being able to think back through your rookie season, what did it mean to you and did it give you a new sense of gratitude for what you were able to accomplish?
It was an honor, a great accomplishment for me. Not too many people in their lifetime can say they made the All-Rookie Second Team, so I was super excited. It was a huge blessing to be acknowledged for my play.
What’s sticking with you as you think back through the season, the difference from the beginning to the end as you got better and improved, as far as something you may have learned or realized about the NBA?
For me, it was my whole experience. I tell everyone it was humbling but it was also a learning experience. I got better in so many aspects. I probably made my biggest leap on the defensive end of the court, just locking in defensively.
Coming in, I wasn’t the best defender. That’s why I always give credit to Coach (Jim) Boylen. He was the type of coach I could just go to and ask what’s going to get me on the floor, and he told me, ‘Your competitiveness on the defensive end just isn’t there,’ so I locked in on that. He challenged me and I answered the challenge. To be honest, when that happened, that’s when my season started to get better and everything all started falling together.
I’m always curious too, having been in the NBA for a year now, have you been watching these playoffs, and do you watch high-level playoff basketball differently now having been in the league?
Yeah, I think so. When you’re in high school and college, people say the NBA playoffs are a different animal than the regular season. For me, to play in the regular season and then watch the playoffs, you can really tell how much of a difference it is, and how much more locked in it is. It’s so hard to get your shot up in the NBA playoffs because of how hard the teams are playing. Even little things like that, you notice while watching. The intensity is way higher and you can tell by watching. I can’t wait until I’m able to play in the playoffs.
I imagine it’s pretty exciting to watch that Donovan Mitchell-Jamal Murray battle knowing the kind of player you are, in that same mold. Seeing the way they were able to score and go to that next level must be pretty exciting.
I definitely tuned in every game for that one. (They) did some things nobody’s ever seen before. Don’s actually my big bro, so I hated to see the end result, but I loved watching him go for 50 and then almost 60, so it was fun to watch.
Let’s talk about this minicamp. What are you and your teammates hoping to accomplish as you get into practice with them again and work with these guys for the first time in a while?
For me, it’s just coming in being way more of a leader than I was last year. All we’re talking about now is just being able to hoop together again. For the most part, a lot of us haven’t hooped this summer at all. To get back on the court is good for our mental, too, because for a lot of us, basketball is our therapy and basketball gets us through a lot. It’s the first time in our lives unless we’ve gotten injured where basketball has been taken away from us. The biggest thing is just getting back on the court together, to be able to hoop, play five-on-five and get up and down.
What’s that been like for you? I know you guys have been able to get into the gym individually for a little while now, but during that early time, did you have access to (facilities), and what’s it been like to try to stay focused without being able to do what you’re normally used to?
I went back home when the pandemic started for three or four months and was able to get into a gym with my trainer, but it wasn’t like five-on-five. We played (one-on-one), but it wasn’t (the same). I played five-on-five only a couple times with just my homeboys from back home, but it’s nothing like playing against other NBA talent and high-level guys. I haven’t really been able to do that, so for me, it’s just been working out. You can work out so much, but you want to implement what you’ve been working on into five-on-five. And I love to hoop. I could hoop every day. So I’ve been fiending to get back on the court.
So do you have a specific goal for yourself, or is it a matter of getting a feel for things and just getting back to normal?
The first couple of days are going to be rough, just because I haven’t been playing. You can condition and run all you want, but there’s nothing like really getting up and down. For me, it’s just getting back into that rhythm and that normalcy and getting back to hooping.
I’ve been really focused on my finishing around the rim, so focusing on that and my shooting off the dribble and my efficiency. (Improving) those types of things and competing on the defensive end. I’m looking forward to that, but at the beginning, I’ll just be getting up and down.