TORONTO â€“ D.J. White averaged a double-double last season with the Thunder organization, but it came with the Tulsa 66ers of the NBA Developmental League.
A native of Tuscaloosa, Ala., and a former standout at Indiana, the 6-foot-9, 251-pound White averaged 20.2 points, 11.1 rebounds and 39.2 minutes in 10 appearances with the 66ers.
Now ineligible to play in the D-League, White has had more of an NBA presence this year. He entered with 19 career appearances but already has 11 this year.
The 29th pick in the 2008 NBA Draft, White battled injuries his first two seasons. He missed his first 75 games as a pro because of jaw surgery and missed 11 games last season with a fractured right thumb.
Averaging 9.9 minutes per appearance, White has been a stabilizing presence for the physically unstable Thunder that has been nagged by injuries.
â€œHe's a tremendous kid who works every day,â€ Thunder coach Scott Brooks said of White. â€œI have a lot of confidence in him, but there's only so many minutes that you can give to the team. When we're down a man or a man is needed, he's a very capable player. I'm excited he's had success this early part of the season. I'm not afraid to play him. I used to always think he was just a scoring option, but his defense has improved.â€
With the Thunder (13-6) playing at Toronto (7-11) at 6 p.m. Friday, we sat down for a brief chat with White:
Scott Brooks said in the three-plus years you've been here, you've never complained once about a lack of playing time.
â€œIt's part of being a professional. We're all in a fortunate situation, and there's no need to complain or whine. I haven't played much, but a lot of that was due to injury. I feel when I have played, I've played well and proven I can play in this league. So, it's just about staying ready.â€
How tough was it to have your NBA career begin with jaw surgery, of all things?
â€œIt was very tough, devastating. Playing in the NBA was my life dream. To get here and you can't play because of something I couldn't control was very difficult. But at the same time, you have to stay positive.â€
Brooks said he knew of your offensive skills, but you also have a defensive presence. Have you always been underappreciated on defense?
â€œI think I've gotten better defensively. In college, I was the tallest person on my team and I was protecting the basket all the time. Now I can go out and guard on the perimeter, go down and defend help side, so I think I've gotten better. Plus, I'm learning from my teammates. Watching Nick Collison has helped me a lot.â€
Brooks said he's not afraid to bring you off the bench at any time.
â€œFeels good to hear that, to know my hard work has paid off and I have earned the trust of coach Brooks. I just don't want to disappoint when I get out there.â€
What's the last thing you're told before you enter a game?
â€œI pretty much know what they want me to do, who I'm guarding when I go out there. They expect me to play hard, rebound and make open shots.â€
Are you more nervous as an NBA player?
â€œSome players get nervous. Some players have anxiety, but I've been doing this since I was 12, at least that's how I look at it. I just go out there and try playing relaxed.â€
The Thunder bench looks pretty entertaining during a game.
â€œWe have fun on the bench â€” me, Royal (Ivey), Mo (Peterson), Byron (Mullens), Daequan (Cook). Those guys (on the court) are our teammates. We love them, so we just try to keep the energy up. When it's dead, we're yelling, talking to the other team, just keeping it fun.â€
How special was it getting to play against the Pacers in Indiana (Nov. 26)?
â€œIt meant a lot. I had a lot of friends there, college teammates. I feel well-liked there, so to speak.â€
Indiana basketball fans are crazy, aren't they?
â€œYeah, they're crazy. Great fans, though. I love 'em, but they're crazy.â€
Do you stay in touch with Kelvin Sampson (former Oklahoma and Indiana coach and now a Milwaukee Bucks assistant)?
â€œI talk to him all the time. I talked to him before and after the game at Milwaukee.â€
Did you chat most when you were out with surgery?
â€œWe chatted all the time. He just told me, â€˜Stay in it. There are better days ahead of you. Keep focused.' So he helped me out a lot during that time.â€
Two days before the season opener, the Thunder exercised the option year of your contract to retain you. Did you see that coming?
â€œI was happy to know I'll get another year, especially with this organization.â€