PARKER — Derrick White, in addition to playmaking, off-ball movement, defense, shooting, handles and basketball IQ, is also something of a baby whisperer. The scouts go gaga for his goo-goo.
“He is Mr. Dad,” White’s longtime coach/mentor Marcus Mason told me Tuesday at the Parker Fieldhouse while the former CU Buffs and Legend High great and current Boston Celtics guard met with campers at the Derrick White Basketball Academy. “Surprisingly, he is Mr. Dad.”
In a spring that saw White become the first former Buff to reach the NBA Finals since Chauncey Billups won it all with Detroit in 2004, then saw him drop 21 points on Golden State in Game 1, the real highlight of the season came a few weeks earlier.
On May 19, White welcomed son Hendrix James into the world, 19½ inches and 7.8 pounds of pure joy.
“He’s always holding the baby,” Mason continued. “And he’s talking to the baby. And for a guy that doesn’t talk that much, he’s really good at baby talk.
“You know, I’ve been on him for 15 years about giving great speeches and being more vocal and talking on defense. And now Hendrix shows up and (Derrick’s) got this new language that’s hard to explain.”
Mason laughed. Thank the stars for fathers and sons. Fathers, sons, and simple blessings.
“Yeah, it’s been a crazy four months,” White said Tuesday as he greeted a throng of local media. “Getting traded, having a kid, going to the (NBA) Finals. All great things.
“I’m super blessed and thankful for all of it. I don’t know if I’ve really had time to reflect, because the Finals really just ended. I’m just super thankful and blessed through it all. It’s time to get better and improve on what we did (in Boston) last year.”
It’s about the ring, and now more than ever. White’s postseason run with the Celtics, who picked him up from San Antonio on Feb. 10, was his first ever to make it past the opening round of the NBA playoffs. (During four-plus seasons with the Spurs, White and his teammates were eliminated in the quarterfinals by Golden State over five games in 2018, then by Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets over a seven-game slugfest a year later.)
Once you get a taste of sending Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo packing, you want another. Then another.
The affable White, whose journey from non-recruited 6-footer as a senior in high school to giving Steph Curry holy heck, elevated his game during the postseason to match the ramp-up for each “boss” fight. The former Buff averaged 8.0 points and 2.6 assists per tilt off the bench in the Eastern Conference semis against the defending-champion Milwaukee Bucks, then put up 10.0 points and 3.7 dimes per contest in a takedown of Miami in the conference finals.
“I think he has more of a sense of urgency,” Mason explained. “I think he has more of an itch.
“He’s always been great at having a regimen. But now I see a little bit more fire, a little bit more sense of urgency — that will, per se, to be at the highest level and to stay there. And I think the Celtics have a lot to do with it, yeah.”
White, who’ll turn 28 on Sunday, has three years left on a four-year, $70-million contract that’s slated to run through his age 30 season. In the meantime, he wants to affirm that the haul Boston sent south for his services — Josh Richardson, Romeo Langford, a first-round pick in 2022 and a first-round pick swap in 2028 — was worth the price.
“I mean, there’s still a lot for me to improve on, a lot of things that I can get better (at),” said White, who helped Boston post a 20-6 record in his 26 regular-season appearances, as well as three playoff series wins and a 14-10 postseason mark since joining the storied franchise.
“I just think each year, you’ve got to get better, (or) you get caught — someone who’s behind you is going to catch you and pass you. So (you’ve) got to keep working.”
Keep grinding. Keep the faith. Mason noted that his protégé had seemed a bit more edgy in the weeks leading up to Hendrix’s May birth than he was once the baby was born.
“I felt like (the birth) was on his mind (before mid-May),” Mason said. “But I think once Hendrix got here, I think he’s kind of relaxed into it. He’s having fun with it.”
Hendrix, barely 5 weeks old, even got to sleep for six hours Monday, much to Dad’s relief. The Baby Whisperer strikes again.
“It was pretty special,” White recalled with a laugh. “So it’s getting better.”
It sure is. On several fronts. And for White, the Legend kid whose tale reads like a basketball fable, the whispers of greatness get louder all the time.