The three-inch scar on the left side of D.J. White’s neck, nestled just below his swollen jaw, might someday fade away. For now, the mark left by the doctor’s incision serves as a daily reminder of the Thunder forward’s lost rookie season.
White, the 29th overall pick in last year’s NBA Draft, has been sidelined all season after undergoing surgery to remove a benign growth in his jaw. And with 21 games remaining, it’s beginning to look like White will miss the entire year, turning what should have been a dream come true into an unimaginable nightmare.
White has a doctor’s appointment scheduled for March 16. Only then will he know if he’ll be cleared to resume full-contact practice and possibly be able to join his Thunder teammates for the home stretch.
White is hoping for the best. But he’s prepared for the worst.
“When (the injury) first came up, it was a four-to-six month recovery time, so it’s no sense of getting my hopes up,” White said. “But I still workout and prepare as if that chance will come, so I’ll be ready. So I’m prepared, but I won’t be down.”
White, an admittedly light-hearted guy, refuses to allow himself to wallow in sorrow. He admits that at times this season he’s given in to thoughts of, ‘Why me?” But he’s made the best of a bad situation through a positive attitude that focuses on the future.
“I look at it as something that I couldn’t control,” White said. “It’s no reason to be down and sad and moping around. I’m really myself all the time, just happy. I’m just ready to get out there.”
Doctors performed two surgeries on White, the first on Oct. 13 to remove the growth from his jaw and the second on Jan. 4 to take a bone graft from the right side of his hip and mend the bone in his jaw.
The left side of White’s jaw has been swollen throughout much of the season. He hasn’t practiced with his teammates since voluntary workouts before the start of training camp. His last game was a first-round loss to Arkansas in the NCAA Tournament on March 21.
On top of making the normal adjustments to the NBA, White has had to wear rubber bands in his mouth to keep him from opening his jaws too wide and has been limited in his food intake. While his teammates partake in playful ribbing before games, White generally has been seen sitting solitary at his locker with an ice pack pressed against his face.
“Those are all things that can wear on you mentally,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “I really don’t know how he’s doing it. I don’t know if I could have done it. I don’t know if 90 percent of the league could do what he’s done.