When Spencer Hawes heard that the Sixers had acquired 6-foot-9 power forward Royce White from the Houston Rockets, he was intrigued. Like everyone who follows the NBA closely, Hawes heard all about White and knew the story from what he had heard second hand and read in the papers.
White, it was reported, was troubled and talented. Suffering from a generalized anxiety disorder, the narrative indicated that White was more trouble than he was worth. If he could just get his act together, the conventional wisdom suggested White would be something else.
But Hawes wanted to learn the truth for himself, so he dialed up White and invited him out to dinner.
“You’ve seen his story,” Hawes said. “It obviously got a lot of coverage.”
Selected with the No. 16 overall pick in the 2012 draft by the Rockets out of Iowa State, White did not appear in a game last year. The perception was because White’s anxiety prevented him from flying, which made it difficult for him to get to half the games.
That wasn’t the case at all, White said.
“I think the most glaring one from listening to public opinion is that I can't fly -- that I don't want to fly and that I won't fly by choice,” White said last week. “Those are probably big ones. Other than that, I think a lot of the people think me and the Rockets went through a situation that was hostile, and it really wasn’t. It was more so a legislation thing and a [collective bargaining agreement] thing. I had to wait it out and get things right.”
Still, White did not travel with the Sixers on their trip to Spain and England for two exhibition games. Initially, White said he would accompany the team to Europe, but reports from the Sixers indicated that the team’s medical staff thought it would be best for the player to stay home.
“It really was just based on our team doctor giving me and [general manager] Sam [Hinkie] and the club advice that it may be best for him to remain at home," Sixers coach Brett Brown told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “You know we are with him. We will support and help him.”
Besides, there was plenty for White to do in Philadelphia. At age 22, White is a bit behind in his development as a player. Yes, Brown and Hinkie like White’s talent, but his fitness needs to improve.
Then again, White is still new at all of this. He played just a handful of games in the D-League last season and did not take part in the Rockets’ training camp. Essentially, White is starting over from scratch.
“I’m just getting back into the feel thing,” White said last week. “The feel thing has to become a repetition. I’ve been away for a while, so I’m still not making plays that are usually routine for me.
“At the same time last year, I wasn’t even in training camp. So this is a big improvement from eight, nine months ago. I’m just happy to be here right now, happy my body’s holding up.”
The Sixers could get a better gauge at how White holds up when they return from Europe to play the Celtics on Friday at the University of Delaware. If it’s anything like the way White had been practicing with the team, the Sixers will be pleased. According to Hawes, White was one of the standouts of the team’s training camp at Saint Joseph’s University, using his versatility and passing ability to turn some heads.
Brown agreed with Hawes’ assessment. However, Brown wants the Sixers to play a running, up-tempo style and White’s fitness level might prevent him from contributing much at first.
“I see a talented player that wants to do everything,” Brown said last week. “We want to try to put him in a clean role initially and then let him use his creative instincts. It’s based again on his fitness because he’s not in shape weight-wise and he knows it. He’s getting there.”
Maybe White will be a bit fitter when the Sixers return from Europe. In the meantime, White says his situation with the Sixers has left him in a good place.
That seems like the first step.
“I’m feeling great, feeling confident and having a great time with these guys,” White said. “I’m happy. The workout that I’m getting now and the support that I have feels good.”
White seems to be fitting in, too. After that invitation to dinner, Hawes has been impressed.
“He’s been nothing but good so far,” Hawes said. “He’s an interesting personality, that’s for sure.”