Sunday, December 31, 2023

Gregg Popovich on Derrick White: 'I couldn't be more proud of a player'

The Celtics are in San Antonio on New Year's Eve to face the Spurs as they wrap up 2023 on the road.

Derrick White, who having the best season of his career so far, returns to a familiar place where he was not only drafted the 29th pick overall back in the 2017 NBA Draft, but played there four and half years before being dealt to Boston at the 2022 trade deadline.

His former head coach Gregg Popovich spoke prior to tip-off about White's development and he's not surprised to see how much the veteran guard has grown into the player we're seeing now, especially to the start of the 2023-24 campaign.
"I couldn't be more proud of a player," said the Spurs coach of White. "When he first came, I don't think he believed he belonged in the NBA. To watch him develop through the years here starting with the G League, playing with us and then starting for us and taking more steps in Boston -- has just been a thrill to watch. He's one of the greatest guys ever. His confidence has just exploded.
"It's been a process, he's been in the league -- I don't know six or seven years? I'm not sure anymore. But, he's a great story -- starting out at the bottom and believing in himself and doing the work necessary to get where he is now. I'm just thrilled for him."
White in 28 games (all starts) is averaging 17.0 points on 48.6% from the field and 41.3% from 3-point range -- all career-highs, while dishing out 5.3 assists and hauling down 3.9 rebounds per contest. He's also among top guards in the league on defense when it comes to steals (1.3) and blocks (1.3).

While many could argue the Celtics guard is putting up All-Star worthy numbers this season, Popovich believes that the key to White reaching his potential -- at least during his time San Antonio -- had always been about "gaining the confidence."
"That's what it was all about and the minutes," Popovich explained. "Supporting him and playing him. Making sure he knew he was on the right track all the time and doing well. He had a natural affinity and understanding of the game I.Q. wise that I don't think he knew about himself...He didn't think of himself that way, he was too humbled I guess to start out. Now he's figured it out."
That's quite the high praise from the winningest coach in league history, still Pop always seemed to believe that White would become something special. As the Celtics stand with the best record in the league at 25-6 and the Spurs are the complete opposite at 5-26 (worst in the West), the Hall-of-Fame coach is beyond proud of his former player that has done nothing but affect winning since his arrival in Boston -- something that may also impact earning his first championship in the process.

Joel Pavón

Photo used courtesy of Getty Images

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