Is Royce White finally ready for the NBA?

Royce White and Ra'shad James of the Reno Bighorns box out Iowa Energy F Glen Rice Jr. for a rebound. (Photo: Jonathan Santiago)

Phase one of the Sacramento Kings’ experiment with Royce White is complete.

The 22-year-old forward completed a four-game stint in the D-League on Wednesday and is now back in Sacramento, awaiting the next step in his latest attempt to break into professional basketball’s most prestigious league.

Is the former first-round pick finally ready for the bright lights of the NBA? Those who worked closely with him during his stay in Reno seem to think so.

“He’ll be fine,” Reno Bighorns head coach Joel Abelson said of White following the 22-year-old forward’s final game on assignment two nights ago. “He can play. He has definable skills that translate to that level. He has NBA-level, elite strength… He can get to any spot on the floor he wants and nobody can move him. He obviously sees the floor very well. He doesn’t always have to make the Magic Johnson look-away, but he sees the floor…”

Abelson was pleased with the way White finished off his four-game stay. In Wednesday’s 120-110 win over the Iowa Energy, he thought White played aggressively on both offense and defense. Conditioning-wise, Abelson also felt White benefited from playing in Reno’s high-altitude setting.

Finding his wind is not much of a concern, however, for White as he transitions to playing against higher-level competition. In fact, White is coming to the Kings weighing roughly 256 lbs. – 15 lbs. slimmer than his playing weight at Iowa State. The first-year forward thinks that timing will be a much bigger hurdle to overcome in his potential NBA transition than his current level of conditioning.

“As I get to touch the ball more and be between the lines in a five-on-five game and the whistles and the crowd, it’s gonna come back,” White said Wednesday. “It’s just a timing thing.”

During his stint in Reno, White had the benefit of having some familiar faces from his past and present around him. Among them was Trent Lockett, who has spent his first season in the pros with the Bighorns after being cut by the Kings before the start of the regular season.

Lockett played high school ball with White and the two led Hopkins High to an undefeated season and state championship in 2009. The two former high school teammates had their lockers situated next to each other during White’s stay in Reno.  Lockett couldn’t say for sure that his presence helped ease White’s transition back into professional ranks. However, the 23-year-old guard thinks that playing with a familiar face could have only been a positive for the talented young forward.

In regards to all the negative press White has received in the last year, Lockett doesn’t seem to believe it’s representative of who White is today.  Based on the player he saw in the last week, Lockett thinks White is well-equipped to make his professional dream a reality.

“I think Royce is in a really, really good place right now,” Lockett said. “Whatever has been said in the past is, to me, water under the bridge. I think he’s in a really good place right now. I think he’s really matured and he’s in a place to start his career off on the right foot.”

Basketball, not White’s well-chronicled battle against generalized anxiety disorder, has been the main focus for the Kings at this point in their experiment. White has been treated just like any other player on a 10-day contract and by all accounts from those in Reno, he embraced that approach.

“I would say that when he came here, it was just like any other player that comes in here,” Bighorns owner Herb Santos Jr. said to Cowbell Kingdom of White. “Here’s a guy that wants to get in the NBA and I want to make sure that person has that opportunity to be able to do it. I had no preconceived opinion about what he was like as a person or anything. He came here just like any other player and I thought he’s been a great guy.”

As the Houston Rockets eventually learned, there will come a point in time when White’s condition will have to be addressed and it appears that the Kings are slowly preparing themselves for that day. They’re doing so by being earnest and forthright in their dealings with White, which seems to have earned his trust.

The fact that White and Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro share mutual connections and contacts has helped as well. It’s created “a better line of communication from the jump” that White may not have had in his two previous stops.

“I have some allies in the basketball community, contrary to popular belief,” White said. “And there’s some people out there that understand the things that I say and where I stand on things and Pete’s been great with that. I just can’t even explain how excited I am to work with him and the organization with how open they’ve been thus far with everything that I go through.”

Will Royce White finally make his long-awaited NBA debut? That question could be answered as soon as next week when the Kings begin a four-game home-stand starting on Tuesday. But, will he be ready if his name is called by Michael Malone to step onto the Kings’ home floor?

He hopes so.

“I feel like I am,” White said when asked if he’s prepared for what awaits him in the NBA. “I think like the first time, it’ll still be a jittery thing – just from the lights. I’ll be a deer in the headlights for a couple possessions or something like that. Maybe even a quarter, maybe a game. But, I’ll adjust, I’ll adjust.”

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About: Jonathan Santiago

Jonathan Santiago serves Cowbell Kingdom as senior editor specializing in writing, podcasting and video production. He also handles the majority of CK’s day-to-day beat coverage of the Kings.