By CHRIS DUNCAN, Associated Press
HOUSTON (AP) — Royce White finally got to focus on basketball Monday, joining the Houston Rockets after he missed the first week of training camp to form a long-term plan for his anxiety issues.
White, the 16th overall pick in the draft, has a deal with the team to travel by bus to some games this season, a compromise he says will help him cope with his anxiety, fear of flying and obsessive compulsive disorder over the long term.
He was happy to just be back on the court after the swell of national media attention sparked by his request to the team.
"Trying to get back in the swing of things," White said. "It went as good as it could go."
Houston held its first week of practice in McAllen, home of its developmental league affiliate. The Rockets were back at the Toyota Center on Monday, and coach Kevin McHale said White was noticeably behind in his conditioning and his familiarity with Houston's plays.
"He's got to catch up on what we're doing," McHale said. "It's always hard when you're a young guy and you miss early camp practice, when you're trying to establish your principles and what you're doing. But he'll be fine."
White's off-the-court issues were no secret. NBA teams still wanted to talk to him after his one spectacular season at Iowa State. White was the only Division I player to lead his team in scoring (13.4 points per game), rebounds (9.3 per game), assists (five per game), steals (1.2 per game) and blocks (0.9 per game) and led the Cyclones to their first NCAA tournament appearance in seven years.
The Rockets decided he was too good to pass up. And over the summer, White flew with the team to Las Vegas and to the rookie orientation in New York City, suggesting that he had a handle on his aerophobia.
As training camp approached, though, White felt apprehensive about starting his first NBA season without a plan to cope with his disorder. He contacted the Rockets through his agent and the two sides negotiated their arrangement.
"I'm excited," White said. "It's a different plan than I've ever had going into a season. I'm happy that the Rockets are willing to work with me, and I'm excited to see what I can do under new circumstances."
McHale, who played 13 seasons in a Hall of Fame career with the Boston Celtics, acknowledged concern for how White was going to navigate through the travel demands of the league schedule.
"Royce is going to have a little bit of a different path in the NBA," McHale said. "If your choice is to have a 10-hour bus ride, or an hour flight, everyone would want to take an hour flight. He's just going to have to work his way through all that stuff.
"We're here to help him and support him as much as we can," McHale said, "but he eventually has to be responsible to your team and your teammates. That's the biggest thing."
On Monday, White easily answered questions in front of a throng of media. If anything, White said going public with his personal struggle has been cathartic.
"In a lot of areas, we're actors," White said with a smile. "The camera doesn't frighten me. Planes do."
He hopes the attention his situation has generated creates more awareness for mental-health issues and treatment.
"It helps for me, just to be honest," he said. "One of the things that comes with anxiety is trying to hide from what you're scared of and oftentimes, that is the spotlight. Being honest and having good feedback obviously helps me out."
His teammates seemed happy to have White back, greeting him with high-fives and encouragement when practice began. If White can blossom, the Rockets think he can provide a strong — and much-needed — inside presence.
"He has a unique skill set," point guard Jeremy Lin said. "We don't really have anybody who can do what he can do. More importantly, we're thankful that he's healthy and with the team. He learned a lot today. He didn't look like he missed too much."
White seems willing to do whatever is necessary to get up to speed on the court.
"I just stay goal-oriented," White said. "I want to be a good teammate, and I want to be a part of this organization. I have other goals and aspirations and I just stick to those, focus on those. I'm just ready to do whatever they ask me to do."