Eric White, the 6-8 Pepperdine forward selected by the Detroit Pistons in this week's National Basketball Assn. draft, said that he was "shocked at first" when the Pistons chose him. He added that he was also "a little bit disappointed" that he was not picked before the third round of the draft.
But after reflecting, White said, "I'm happy about it." He said he began to realize that he was the first forward and the second player chosen by Detroit, which didn't have a first-round pick and made 6-2 guard Freddie Banks of Nevada Las Vegas its first choice in the second round.
He said that Detroit, which lost to the Boston Celtics in this year's Eastern Conference finals, "is a good, young team of up-and-comers. I've just got to go in now and play hard. I've got to have faith and confidence to perform like I know I can, and, hopefully, it will work out well for me."
In a telephone interview, Will Robinson, Detroit assistant general manager, said, "We think he has some talent and has a chance to make our ballclub.
"Whether or not his talent will merge with the people we have on our ballclub remains to be seen. But he has enough talent to play in the NBA."
Pepperdine Coach Jim Harrick said he thinks there may be a good future in Detroit for White, an NCAA All-District 15 selection last season who was named three times to All-West Coast Athletic Conference teams.
"I think Eric White needs to go to some team that likes him, and Detroit likes him and has shown a lot of interest in him.
"Watching (the Pistons) play, they like good, young legs that can run the floor. More importantly, they need a forward who can shoot the medium range jump shot, from 15 to 20 feet."
White proved that he can shoot from medium range in four years at Pepperdine.
In his first three years, he scored 1,095 points and made 55.6% of shots from the field. As a sophomore, he led the Waves in both scoring and rebounding, averaging 15.9 points and 9.2 rebounds a game. As a junior, he averaged 15.3 points (second-best on the team) and 6.5 rebounds. Pepperdine won WCAC championships in those years.
Last season White was the only senior on an inexperienced team that finished the regular season with a 12-18 overall record and 5-9 and in seventh place in the WCAC.
However, the Waves upset second-place Gonzaga in the first round of the conference's first postseason tournament and stunned the conference regular-season champion, the University of San Diego, in the tourney semifinals. In the WCAC championship game, White scored a game-high 21 points, but Santa Clara defeated the Waves, 77-65.
As a senior, the 21-year-old White was not as accurate from the field as in his first three years, making just 47.2% of his shots. But he still averaged 19.3 points to lead the team in scoring and also averaged 7.7 rebounds, second-best on the squad.
He finished at Pepperdine with 1,674 points, second to Dane Suttle's 1,702 on the school's career scoring list, and fifth in career rebounds with 812.
White's scoring touch should serve him well in trying out for the Pistons, but both he and Coach Harrick agree that he will have to add a few pounds of muscle to compete for a job at forward with such Detroit front-court players as Rick Mahorn, Dennis Rodman, John Salley and Adrian Dantley.
His competition will also include two other Piston draft choices: 6-10 North Carolina forward David Popson, a fourth-round selection, and 6-8 Iowa forward Gerry Wright, taken in the fifth round. Wright, known as "Sir Jamalot" when he starred at San Gorgonio High School in San Bernardino, played for USC as a freshman before transferring to Iowa.
Harrick said he thinks the Pistons will "keep Rodman, Mahorn, Salley and Dantley. But (White has) a chance to make the team. He may be a very young kid, but if he gets a chance to stay with the team for a year, he has a bright future."
Asked if White will have to do weight training to compete, Harrick replied, "He has been. He's been working hard. He turned 21 only last December and he will grow and mature. If he is given an opportunity to be on the team while that happens, he will have a tremendous opportunity."
White, who said he weighs 214, said he has been hitting the weights to add bulk to his slender 6-8 frame.
"I'd like to be about 220," he said. "I don't want to get too big, but I do want to get a lot stronger. I'm moving up to another level of competition."