PARKER • Now here’s a hashtag truly worth 1,000 retweets.
It’s what his dad once told him when Derrick White was a 9-year-old second baseman in Parker’s Little League. Derrick up to bat, winning run on third, two outs: Dare to be great.
“That’s where it started,” Richard White says.
It’s what Derrick told himself when he got hit with that fourth foul and UCCS found itself trailing Colorado School of Mines in the NCAA Division II national tournament a few years ago. Fifty (50!) points from White and a UCCS victory later, D-White had dared to be great.
Cheesy? Sure. Effective? Well, you tell me. This 24-year-old’s going to make $1.9 million playing basketball next season. Maybe the rest of us should use #DTBG as a swing thought for life.
“(It’s like) truth or dare. You used to play that all the time when you’re growing up: I dare you to be great,” White says. “You’ve got to take it and do whatever it takes to reach that goal.”
What goes around comes around, and Monday afternoon at the Parker Fieldhouse I watched one of the coolest Colorado basketball things in a while: White, in a gym full of kids with ants in their pants, hosting the first Derrick White Basketball Academy, delivering the same message years later: Dare to be great, he preached. Derrick’s paying it forward.
“The first time I talked to Chauncey (Billups) was probably sophomore or junior year at UCCS. ... (Billups) was always around. That was, like, a really big moment for me,” White says.
This was, like, a really big moment for these kids. The role reversal had Derrick hosting his own basketball camp in the same gym where he grew up. (On breaks between pickup games the boys would walk to Chipotle for three soft tacos. Now the San Antonio Spurs guard opts for the highest-calorie burrito bowl). Over 300 kids showed up for White’s camp, an extraordinary number for one of these events the first time around. The kids scored “Dunk It Like Derrick” t-shirts, swag provided by the Spurs (yes, Nuggets fans can use it for camping towels) and wristbands with the hashtag, #DTBG.
Who knows? he’s telling me afterward. Maybe the next great Colorado hoops story was bouncing around among the giggling 10-year-olds who brought wide eyes and wider dreams.
His game-winning hit in Little League was a dare to be great, just as his 36 points in Game 3 of a playoff series against the Nuggets was a dare to be great. The Nuggets responded with a Game 7 win, and here’s a hunch it’s not the last time the local kid and his favorite team throw down in the playoffs. Hope not, anyway.
Go ahead. Line up the Western Conference powers that grow another neighbor each day, “And free agency hasn’t even started yet,” as White said. Dare you to leave out the Spurs.
Don’t do it. In some order, it’s Warriors, Jazz, Nuggets, Blazers, Rockets Lakers, Thunder... Spurs. The Spurs will be a problem. They’re getting guard Dejounte Murray back from a knee injury, and they’ll pair him with White. Good luck scoring on those bird dogs. Murray-White will be the best defensive backcourt in the NBA, a nightmare to play against if either one (or both) figures out a consistent 3-point shot.
One more thing. Three decades of San Antonio taking the Nuggets’ lunch money want to know: why are the Spurs always good? Asking for a friend.
“People always talk about the ‘Spurs Way’ and playing the right way,” White says.
The Spurs are counting on White in a big way. Take that Nuggets series. The Spurs won the three games in which White had a positive plus-minus rating. It lost the four he was a negative.
“They care about you as a person to start with. So if you’re a good person ... off the court (in the community is) is a big thing for them,” White says. “On the court, being unselfish, sticking to your strengths, moving the ball, not holding it.”
And playing for Pop? No surprise, that’s the easy part, White says.
“He tells a lot of jokes around the facility,” White says of Gregg Popovich, the Air Force Hall of Famer. “He says, ‘If you want some playing time you better laugh at my jokes.’”
As camp closed, I found a kid holding his phone all by himself. I asked Gabe what he thought of D-White, NBA player. “He’s just so nice,” says Gabe, an Arvada high schooler in August.
“I want to show him this video,” Gabe says. “It’s from when he dunked on Millsap.”
(Contact Gazette sports columnist Paul Klee at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @bypaulklee.)