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KLEE: UCCS basketball star Derrick White makes normal cool again

By: Paul Klee
February 27, 2014 Updated: February 28, 2014 at 7:47 am
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UCCS guard Derrick White drives past CSU-Pueblo guard Arden Dennis in the first half Saturday, Jan. 5, 2013, during the inaugural Downtown Classic at the Colorado Springs City Auditorium. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

DENVER — If you have the dirt on Derrick White, please shoot me an email:

paul.klee@gazette.com.

Because I can't find any. Not even a juicy story angle. There's no arrest record. He didn't grow up in a sketchy neighborhood ruled by drugs. There's no paycheck-to-paycheck childhood in a single-parent home. There's no medical ailment that almost ended his career before he could lead UCCS on a program-record nine-game winning streak and become a Player of the Year candidate in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference.

Nothing.

"There's no tremendous hardship story. It's like, 'Hey, here's a kid who's the epitome of the student-athlete,'" UCCS men's basketball coach Jeff Culver said. "Maybe that's the story?"

Two words: Bor-Ing.

"In our household it was important to get an education if you want to play sports," said Richard White, Derrick's father. "If your grades aren't right, you're not playing."

What's going on here? Where's the harrowing plight of a problem-child-turned-good?

The problem with Derrick White is there's no problem. In sports, and sports journalism, we hunt the stories of athletes overcoming impossible odds to succeed.

Derrick has none of those stories.

Derrick is from the 'burbs. He's a sophomore basketball star at UCCS who chose the university based on its sports management program. His mom bakes Rice Krispies treats for bus rides. School doesn't come easy for him, yet he scored a 3.5 GPA at Legend High School in Parker.

Derrick makes for one dull sports story.

And Derrick is probably what we should be writing about more often. Normal is cool, too.

"When I was a freshman (in high school), I weighed maybe 100 pounds," he said. "So my mom made me a lot of food."

Parents are an underrated annoyance for college coaches. If playing time's not the problem, a coach yelling at their kid probably is. I once saw a dad give a coach a DVD that showed how to install a zone offense. Dad didn't like the offense the coach had been running, in the Big Ten, for two decades.

"Our focus on the recruiting trail is that talent should never trump character. Ideally, you find young men that have both," Culver said. "When I'm out recruiting, I'm looking at, 'Can I get along with this kid - and his parents?'"

In his second season as the coach at UCCS, Culver is no exception; he's got a bone to pick with Derrick's parents.

"I've had her cookies and her Rice Krispie treats and everything else she makes," Culver said. "But I haven't had her lasagna."

UCCS is a banner story in the RMAC. In the preseason poll, Culver's club was picked to finish ninth. With two games left, Friday and Saturday at the Gallogly Events Center, UCCS is in third, sitting pretty at 18-6. That's a school record for wins.

Fifteen of their 18 players are from Colorado. For a Division II program with the equivalent of 10 full-rides, recruiting locally stretches their scholarship dollars.

"In-state tuition vs. out-of-state tuition makes a big difference to us," Culver said.

UCCS basketball is a different operation. Different, because it's more like real life. Players often work part-time jobs. Practices begin at 7 a.m., in order to avoid conflicts with class schedules. White enters the final weekend as the RMAC's leading scorer.

"I wasn't really recruited much out of high school," he said. "Probably because I was so skinny."

"At 100 pounds, a lot of coaches shied away from him," White said.

Culver's plan was to redshirt White as a freshman. Instead, the 6-foot-5 guard was named RMAC Freshman of the Year. The hope was that White would develop into a solid contributor as an upperclassman. If not for Brandon Jefferson leading Metro State to a No. 1 ranking, White would be RMAC Player of the Year - as a sophomore.

"After my senior year of high school, I just worked on my game," he said. "Probably more than I've ever worked on it."

The sensational story angle, though? Can't find one. Maybe his parents can help, if they're not driving to all of Derrick's road games. Last season, they never missed one.

"We really liked last year going to Nebraska and South Dakota," Richard White said.

So God bless the college athletes with hardscrabble, hard-luck, hard-work stories. They definitely deserve a place in these sports pages.

So does Derrick.

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Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

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