WEST DES MOINES — Cheers greeted former Iowa State star and embattled NBA player Royce White as he arrived a tad late for his quickly-arranged YMCA Capital City League appearance at Valley Southwoods Freshman High School.
His game took a while to show up, too — but nearly allowed his team, the Walnut Creek YMCA, to forge a rousing comeback against Atlantic Coca-Cola Bottling Company before falling 121-114 before an overflow crowd well in excess of 900.
“I played terrible,” said White, a uniquely talented big man (6-8, 270) who sees the floor like a point guard and recently was traded from Houston to Philadelphia. “It took me a while to kick it into gear. It’s probably my first time playing in an organized game in a couple months, but I tried to kick it in at the end.”
White, in the 2011-12 season, led the Cyclones to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in seven years.
Last season as an NBA rookie with the Rockets, he made headlines with both his fervent mental health advocacy — White suffers from an anxiety disorder that includes a phobia about flying, among other issues — and apparent intransigence in some dealings with the team that paid him $1.7 million in year one.
“You know how I stand,” White said when asked about his many public and social media critics. “It’s a be-well attitude and a positive — I believe in shedding light where there’s darkness. And to me, negative media, negative person-to-person relationships, negative support, negative comments are all unnecessary. ... Positivity is the only way to respond.”
Wednesday, White clanged his early non-NBA range 3-point attempts and lost a game-high six turnovers.
But he shined late, drilling three long-distance baskets in an offensive flourish joined by Cyclone JUCO recruit K.J. Bluford that chopped a nearly 30-point deficit to five in the final minute.
White finished with a team-high 32 points and hit six of his eight free throws.
So what’s he working on the most this summer?
“Obviously my shooting,” said White, who averaged 11.4 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.3 assists in 16 games with the NBA D-League’s Rio Grande Valley Vipers last season. “My free throws, I actually started to shoot really well at (Rio Grande Valley) after I got there for a couple months and went back to my old stance in high school of shooting free throws. It’s really a film thing now when you get to the pro level: Watching other players’ preferences, individual matchups game to game — I’m just working on all those things, trying to see the game and where I need to improve.”
That’s likely, as White said, in the area of shooting.
But his canny court vision was on full display Wednesday.
“You’re playing against him but you’re still in awe of some of the things he’s able to do — his passing, his strength, the way he sees the floor and the way he’s able to get to the basket,” said ISU senior guard Bubu Palo, who notched his customary summer league triple-double (28 points, 12 assists, 11 rebounds) to help beat White’s team. “It was definitely nice to reconnect with Royce.”
The feeling was mutual.
“I love it; there’s nothing like it,” White said when asked about the continuing support he’s received from ISU fans and former teammates and coaches.“A lot of naysayers, obviously, on Twitter and other things, and Cyclone Nation was right there to back me up. And they’ll continue to do that because they know my essence and I know theirs.”