Many thought the bar that was set by last year’s Skyforce team would be impossible to match, especially in a league with as much turnover as the NBA D-League. However, this year’s team keeps winning games. Through their first 13 games of the season, the 2016-17 Skyforce have the same record as last year’s team at 10-3.
They haven’t missed a beat. Yet, after Rodney McGruder, DeAndre Liggins, and Jarnell Stokes all made NBA rosters to start the season, Sioux Falls was required to rebuild and reload in a single off season.
Much of the attention has been cast on the four returning players from last season: Jabril Trawick, Briante Weber, Bubu Palo, and Keith Benson. However, there is one new player that has not-so-quietly taken over in the early parts of this season.
Okaro White is averaging a team-leading 18.3 points per game to go along with 9.8 rebounds per game. He has seven double-doubles in 13 games so far this season, second only to his teammate Benson who leads the league with eight. White has scored 20 or more points on five separate occasions, and has scored in double figures 11 times already this year.
It’s time we got to know White, who he is, and where he came from.
White had an impressive four-year career at Florida State University, where he scored 1,402 points and collected 704 rebounds in a total of 139 games (94 starts). Those totals equate to career averages of 10.1 points and 5.1 rebounds per game, though he averaged 13.6 points and 6.8 rebounds in his final season.
Describe your role as a player at Florida State and the impact you made on that program.
“I think I had a great four years, and I enjoyed school. It was different, because in my first two years we were really good. Then, in my last two years, we were kind of mediocre. I think I made an impact as far as, you know, going back and investing in the community and the fans. I think I just brought an energy to the program. I’ll always be remembered as an energy guy who played hard. I think those four years helped me a lot as far as growing up and getting to the professional level.”
White was voted All-ACC Honorable Mention (Media) as a Junior in 2013 and earned ACC All-Defensive Team (Coaches) as a Senior in 2014. However, despite his collegiate success, White went undrafted in the 2014 NBA Draft.
After appearing in five summer league games with the Memphis Grizzlies that summer, White promptly went overseas, signing with Virtus Lavoro BOlogna of the Italian Basketball League for the 2014-15 season. In 33 games (32 starts) White averaged 12.1 points and 6.8 rebounds, picking up right where he left off in college.
Following his first season abroad, he returned to the United States to play for both the Dallas Mavericks and the Memphis Grizzlies in the 2015 NBA Summer Leagues in Orlando and Las Vegas. Remaining unsigned, he returned to Europe, signing with Aris BC of both the HEBA A1 and Eurocup leagues.
White was awarded Greek HEBA A1 MVP and Greek HEBA A1 First Team honors for his efforts during the 2015-16 season, averaging 12.9 points and 7.0 rebounds while playing in both leagues.
What were the Greek and Italian leagues like, and how did your game develop while you were over there?
“I think the coaches did a great job as far as preparation for games, and also had a great split of time between getting the players better personally. It was the same thing in Italy. Both organizations spent a good amount of time on developing the players, so it was very helpful to me. Of course, last year, coming out of Greece was very helpful to me as well.”
Again, White returned to the United States for the off season, appearing in 10 total contests for the Orlando Magic and the Miami HEAT. White was signed by the HEAT in advance of the regular season, and after playing in multiple preseason games, was allocated to the Sioux Falls Skyforce as an affiliate player.
The rest is history.
We had the opportunity to catch up with White at practice this week to ask his thoughts on his role with the Skyforce this year, as well as what he’s noticed about the home court advantage that the Skyforce have held in recent years.
You’ve been asked to do quite a bit more scoring this year than you have been in the past, did that come naturally to you or are there still things that you’re trying to work on?
“I mean, I just think it goes with the flow of the game. This league is a little more high-speed. That’s normal. It’s just how the game goes in the United States. It’s more up-tempo. A lot more shots go up, and that’s cause for a lot more scoring for myself and my teammates. I’ve always just taken advantage of my opportunities, and I’ve just gotten more opportunities in this league than I have in the past.”
The Skyforce have won 16 regular season home games in a row, dating back to February 3, 2016. This year you’re off to a 6-0 start. From what you’ve seen thus far, describe the home court advantage that the Skyforce have here in Sioux Falls, and your thoughts on the support of the Sioux Falls community.
“I think the fans are unbelievable. They come out and support us. I also think it’s a history thing. You know, the team has been here so long. It’s the longest active team in the D-League, by far, if I’m not mistaken. The fans and the city is really pushing for this team. That gives us a big home court advantage that’s carried over from last year into this year and it’s something we’ve all noticed so far this season.”