By Anthony Olivieri
Iowa State forward Royce White is projected to be a first-round pick in tomorrow’s NBA draft but there have been concerns he could free fall all the way into the second round in part over – of all things – a fear of flying.
White burst onto the scene this past March when he put forth big performances against Connecticut and eventual champion Kentucky in the NCAA tournament. As a result, the 6-foot-8 forward vaulted into the consciousness of NBA talent evaluators and was thought by some to be a lottery pick after declaring early for the draft as a sophomore.
But, like many Americans, White hates to fly. And that’s a big obstacle in the eyes of some NBA executives as players annually face a gauntlet of flights and hotels involved in 41 regular-season road games.
White’s aversion to flying could cause teams pause when it’s time to make selections tomorrow, especially when you consider how easily they are spooked over physical red flags leading up to the draft. Darrell Arthur (alleged kidney condition), DeJuan Blair (no ACLs) and Jared Sullinger (back spasms) are three recent players whose reported medical issues have affected their draft stock over the years even when it’s unclear how much of an effect there is on the court.
White’s mental red flags certainly appear to be the most trivial of them all.
Many players in the league have voiced their anxiety over flying in the past and have terrifying turbulence tales from their basketball travels. Former NBA player Eddie Robinson best summed up the feeling of many when he told the Chicago Sun-Times in 2003, “Every time I get on a plane, I get something to eat real quick and get my headphones on and close all the blinds. I don’t want to see nothing. I hate flying. There’s no reason to go up that high.”
Unfortunately, White’s candor about his flying concerns may cost him tomorrow.
“There’s guys that have been in the draft before where there have been concerns they didn’t like to fly, but Royce is very unique,” one general manager told NBA.com.
“It’s going to be something that a team taking him on is going to have to have something in place, whether it’s a staff member or a plan in place to help him accommodate some of his fears with the travel aspect because that’s such a huge part of an NBA season.”
White flew to many games this past season for Iowa State but drove to some contests with his grandfather, including games against Missouri and Kansas State and the team’s NCAA tournament contests in Louisville, KY, over 600 miles away.
The fear of flying is part of a larger anxiety disorder for White, who has also admitted to struggling with obsessive compulsive disorder and uses medication to control both. That concerns NBA evaluators in light of former NBA draft picks like Eddie Griffin, the No. 7 overall pick in 2001 who battled depression before tragically dying at the age of 25 after his car crashed into a train in 2007.
A second GM told NBA.com that White’s situation is similar to a player who has off-the-court problems – presumably meaning run-ins with the law or substance abuse – in regards to how it may affect his stock. White has rightfully taken offense to comparisons like that for something that he can’t control and afflicts millions of Americans.
“It’s like cancer or heart disease. Are those character issues, too?” White told the Akron Beacon Journal. “I don’t like when that association is made. There’s a lot of people out there who have an anxiety disorder and don’t talk about it for that reason. People think it’s a character issue and it’s not.
“I’m going to continue to be me, I’m going to continue to be an advocate for the mental illness community. I’ll continue to talk about it and be forthcoming about it. When a person or public figure talks about it, it lets people know that haven’t been diagnosed to go and get checked. You’re not alone.”
To be fair, scouts are also worried about erratic behavior in White’s past. He pleaded guilty to shoplifting and was also accused of stealing a laptop computer when he was a freshman at Minnesota during the 2009-10 season before quitting the team over YouTube.
But from all indications, those issues are now in the past as White led the Cyclones in five statistical categories last season and was a First Team All-Big 12 performer while displaying a charming personality.
Calls to White’s agent, Andrew Vye, were not immediately returned and White has refused interviews leading up to the draft as many believe he has been promised a selection by the Boston Celtics at the No. 21 spot if White is still on the board. That means White could end up in the same frontcourt as future Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett on a team that was recently one game away from the NBA Finals.
So while White’s anxiety disorder may cost him money in the short run, it ultimately could lead to an ideal landing spot.
And nothing sounds better for someone who hates flying.
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