BOULDER — This is one of the first college practices for D’Shawn Schwartz, a short and sweaty run to prepare for the CU basketball team’s tour through Italy in August. And they are watching.
Schwartz, the 6-foot-7 freshman from Sand Creek High, snatches a board and flips in a layup. Directly above the hoop, a banner depicts 1997 All-American and Denver’s finest, Chauncey Billups. One possession later, Schwartz unloads a lefty three-pointer from the corner, below a banner that shows Parker and Legend High’s Derrick White, our latest NBA guy.
D'Shawn Schwartz has next. The Buffs' coaching staff describes him as a gym rat. And the dream that dribbles through Schwartz’s mind is no different than the one realized by his brothers in Colorado basketball, Billups and White.
“Obviously I’m trying to go to the NBA. If I can be a ‘2-and-done,’ that would be great, but whatever the game has in store for me,” Schwartz says. “I’m going to use basketball the same way it’s used me and has used other players. I’m going to try to bring what I can to the game.”
It takes no more than 10 minutes of full-court action to see Schwartz is ready-made for Pac-12 ball. His scorer’s mindset is encouraged by the green light afforded to him by CU’s coaches, and, at 223 pounds, the 18-year-old can push back at the physicality of high-major hoops. If Schwartz applies the same work ethic that led to a 4.0 GPA at Sand Creek, I see him developing into one of the most prolific scorers to roll through Coors Events Center.
Just as it was Billups whose rise told White that you can get there from here, it’s White who has inspired the next generation of Colorado ballers. And White’s story is even more relatable. While Billups had us lining up at Manual’s Thunderdome when he was a George Washington sophomore, White drove an all-Colorado road from Legend High to UCCS to CU to the NBA in relative anonymity. White is too young to know it and too humble to show it. But the San Antonio Spurs draft pick now has the street cred to influence the next wave of Colorado talent. And he already is.
“His story’s amazing. It shows that anybody can do it if they just work hard and push forward and believe in themselves, even if nobody else does,” says Schwartz, who met White on one of his recruiting visits to Boulder. “If you just look at the pictures of how he transformed his body from Legend to now, it’s unbelievable.”
You can’t overstate Billups’ impact on his generation of Colorado athletes. But just as influential as the NBA championship ring he won on the court was how he’s carried himself off it. Good luck digging up dirt on Billups; one of the few instances that could be held against him was the time he showed up at Eisenhower Rec Center to play in a summer-league championship game. His team won, no surprise, despite the fact he wasn’t listed on the roster before the game. (Ahem.) By the time next season rolls around, Billups could be running the front office of an NBA franchise, perhaps in Cleveland, New York, or another city lucky enough to score his renowned leadership.
Twenty years later it’s Derrick White, the 29th overall pick of the NBA draft, showing the way.
“I think he could’ve gone a little higher,” Schwartz says. “I wish he would’ve gone to the Nuggets. That would’ve been cool.
“I heard during my sophomore year he was dropping 52 (points, at UCCS) and I was like, ‘Whatever, it’s D-2,’” he adds. “But just seeing how it’s happened for him, it’s crazy.”
It’s a hefty responsibility, carrying the flag for the state of Colorado. White is built for it. Soon as the Spurs made yet another smart move by drafting him in the first round, I received an email from a UCCS supporter: “As a dad, if I could choose any basketball hero for my son, it is Derrick White.”
There can be no better compliment.
At CU, Schwartz wears uniform No. 0, a change from his No. 25 at Sand Creek. The buzz in the practice gym revolves around a highly regarded freshmen class of four teenagers. Other than Schwartz, the one that jumps out — quite literally — is Tyler Bey, a 6-7 forward from California. “He’s got stupid bounce,” Schwartz said, moments after Bey had to duck his head to avoid banging it against the rim on a rebound attempt. And don’t be surprised if McKinley Wright, a one-time Dayton recruit, battles Denver East’s Dom Collier for early minutes at point guard.
Now it’s Schwartz who is in charge of passing the torch at altitude.
“Him (White) being able to build up his name in Colorado is great,” Schwartz says. “Hopefully we can come in and carry that legacy and hopefully get back to the tournament and win a couple Pac-12 tournaments and championships.”