ILLAWARRA Hawks NBL captain Kevin White played his first competitive game of basketball in three months on Friday night and enjoyed the experience with the Rockingham Flames and would be more than open to seeing out the rest of the season in the SBL.
White played the 185th game of his NBL career in the final match of the 2017/18 regular season when his Hawks beat Melbourne United at Hisense Arena on February 18.
He hasn’t played since but given the emotions he was battling at the time given his father passed away the previous night, that hasn’t been a bad thing at all and he’s been able to spend as much time as possible with his mother back in Sydney.
But White has continued to work out with now ex-Hawks teammates especially in more recent times Nick Kay and Mitch Norton as they stay in shape after being part of Australia’s gold medal winning Commonwealth Games team.
White was happy to just continue working out in preparation for another NBL season, but when he got a call from good mate but Wildcats rival Greg Hire on Wednesday, things very quickly changed.
With the Flames having lost import Josh Ritchart with a broken foot and on a five-game losing streak after starting the 2018 SBL season winning six of their opening eight games, it was quite the urgent call that Hire was making too.
With Rockingham facing a double-header this weekend against the Willetton Tigers and East Perth Eagles, they couldn’t afford to keep losing so the request was not only for White to join the Flames, but to do so immediately.
Less than 24 hours later he was on a flight to Perth and just over 48 hours after first being asked, he was in Rockingham on Friday night lining up for the Flames against the Tigers.
White ended up playing 20 minutes too in his first game in three months and finished with nine points, four rebounds and two assists in what was an impressive win for the Flames who prevailed 107-86 against the Tigers, last season’s regular season champions.
The 31-year-old enjoyed his first appearance in the SBL and especially to see everything Hire told him about Rockingham come to fruition.
“It was good. It’s always enjoyable coming into environments where guys look like they are having fun and they are a good group,” White said.
“The first thing that Greg Hire said when he contacted me and told me about the group was that they are just a good group of guys who enjoy their basketball.
“We were just looking to have a good hit out and at the end of the day put a pretty good performance together against a decent team in Willetton.
“I’m happy with it and it’s good to run the cobwebs out from the last few months that I’ve just been sitting at home. It’s enjoyable when you get a win like that with a good group of guys.”
While White had continued working out to ensure he was still in shape, that’s not quite the same as being in game shape so he was certainly taking in some deep breaths in his first game in three months on Friday night.
“The only way you get back in shape is by playing games I feel like. You can do all the individuals you want but once you start to play there’s a difference in match fitness and the intensity turns right up,” he said.
“The last game we played was in Melbourne and it was an emotional one for me after my dad passed away the night before and I played that game with the boys.
“That was the last game of basketball I had played so it was good to get back out on the court and really enjoy my basketball and have some fun with it again.”
Four days ago the last thing White expected was that he would have already played a game for Rockingham in WA and be preparing for a second one now on Saturday night.
But he couldn’t have enjoyed the experience any more already and is more than open to extending his stay at the Flames beyond the next month that he has currently signed for.
“I was just sitting at home and got a call from Greg to see if I was interested in coming over and playing,” White said.
“Less than 20 hours later I was on a flight coming over here, played a game tonight and it all happened pretty quick. I’m looking forward to the next month or so that I’m here and I guess we’ll see what happens after that time expires.
“Right now I’m in contract negotiations with Illawarra so I guess we’ll just see where that goes. If Illawarra are happy to have me keep playing here to make a playoff run and have a look at contending for the title, that’s something obviously they have to approve.
“But at the same time, I’m a competitor and even if we finish seventh or eighth, we would still have a chance and I’d love to be part of that playoff push with this team. I’d love to try and help Rockingham win its first title. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens.”
From the outside having watched White and Hire do battle with one another in the NBL over the years, it would be easy to come to the conclusion there wasn’t a lot of love between the two, but it actually couldn’t be further from the case.
They have a bond that goes back a long time and now with the work Hire has been doing through A Stitch in Time to raise awareness and support for mental health, White has admired that and wants to get involved as much as possible.
Having that basketball history with Hire and then the bond over their work in helping others through charity work and the like meant that they have plenty in common and White was more than happy to come be his teammate in Rockingham.
“I’ve known Greg since we grew up playing against each other and the relationship even extends back to when I played with Ben Madgen. Ben and Greg played together in college and we played each other in the Final 4 over in America and all caught up then,” he said.
“Then even when Greg first started in Perth and I was with Sydney, after games Ben, Greg and I would always head out. So our relationship goes back a long way and we’ve been close mates since even though we battle on the court.
“We are both interested in very similar things too with our social work and that’s what I am looking to do back home. I love what Greg is doing over here with his charity and I think over the next month or so I’ll get involved with that and take a couple of trips with him and extend in that field.
“It’s something we are both passionate about and when you have that relationship and are passionate about other things off the basketball court it is great.
“Even though we are highly strung competitors on the court and have similar mindsets, when he gave me that call and we had that conversation, it seemed very interesting to me at the time and it all happened very fast.
“Our relationship is pretty strong and I’m sure it will only grow over the next month or so I’m here playing with him.”
White and Hire might have a good bond off the court, but their competitive instincts certainly kick in when playing against one another in the NBL.
White was looking forward to not having to deal with Hire’s physical approach now as a teammate, but it didn’t totally turn out that way as Hire focused on pulling in one of his 17 rebounds for the night against Willetton.
“We had a joke about it and I told him it will be nice to shoot the ball and watch other people get barrelled out of the way, but he still managed to take me out tonight,” White said.
“We had a laugh about that at the end of the game, but I’ve seen what he has built with his time at the Wildcats and it’s just amazing with the championships he’s won and everything else. That’s something I can only dream about and hope to do at Illawarra.
“But I know that in coming years my time as a basketball player is coming to an end and I would love to get close to the stature he is at in terms of the championships and the leader he’s been at Perth.
“I’ve looked up to how he and Damian Martin have gone about their business for a long time and to now be sharing the court with him is special.”
Having not played a game since Illawarra’s NBL season ended in Melbourne on February 18, White will now play his second game inside 24 hours for the Flames on Saturday as they venture to Morley Sport and Recreation Centre to take on the East Perth Eagles.
“It will be a challenge but I think as you grow older you learn what your body needs to get through playing games and backing up. I’ll just take care of the body and recover, and I’m sure it will be fine for another hit out,” he said.
“If we play like we did tonight and get after them and defend, and play with that intensity I’m sure we’ll be fine and plenty of guys will get minutes. I’m just looking forward to getting back on the court again and hopefully getting another win.”
What the game with the Eagles will provide for White is a chance to reacquaint himself once again with East Perth captain and former NBL veteran of 190 games and the Wildcats’ 2010 championship, Drew Williamson.
“I didn’t even know he was still running around and I remember watching Drew when I was a little kid growing up and he was running around,” White said.
“Then obviously I saw him playing under Bevo with Perth and again I’m sure he is still a quality player. It’s another good challenge for us but if we can come out and play close to how we did tonight I’m sure we’ll be fine at the end of the day. “