THERE is the potential that Kevin White plays his final two games with the Rockingham Flames this weekend, but the recently re-signed Illawarra Hawks NBL captain has enjoyed his SBL experience so much he’s open to a return still in 2018 and beyond.
White was content to be enjoying his off-season back home splitting time between Wollongong and Manly following a 2017/18 NBL campaign with the Hawks that was hampered by a foot injury.
So he was working hard on getting his body right and also spending time back home in Manly with family and friends following the passing of his father, David, on the eve of the last game of Illawarra’s NBL season.
White remained confident of re-signing with the Hawks for a fourth season having been captain of the club in 2017/18. That has now eventuated, so he was content working on freshening up mentally and physically ahead of pre-season getting underway.
That all changed on a chance phone call from his Perth Wildcats rival Greg Hire after the Rockingham Flames had lost import Josh Ritchart for the rest of the 2018 SBL season through a foot injury.
One day later and White was flying to Perth and 24 hours on from that he made his first appearance in the SBL playing in the Flames’ victory over the Willetton Tigers at Mike Barnett Sports Complex that ended their five-game losing run.
White and the Flames backed that up beating the East Perth Eagles on the road 24 hours later so having just received the call on that Wednesday night, the Hawks NBL captain had flown to Perth and played his two games in the SBL and helped Rockingham to consecutive victories.
They also beat the Cockburn Cougars 77-75 the following week but last Saturday went anything but to plan with a surprise 25-point loss to the bottom placed Goldfields Giants in Kalgoorlie.
Now White’s month-long contracted stint is about to expire this weekend with the Flames facing a double-header at home to the Mandurah Magic on Friday night and away to the Kalamunda Eastern Suns on Saturday.
That doesn’t mean necessarily that White won’t be able to fly back to qualify for the playoffs with Rockingham and indeed play for the Flames during the post-season, but for now living in Perth for the past month is about to come to an end for the 185-game NBL veteran.
He admits to being surprised when the first call came from Hire to gauge his interest in joining the Flames and it’s fair to say it’s quite a world away from Wollongong and Manly.
White was only too happy to jump on board when asked and he’s gone on to enjoy the experience more than he even imagined he might over the past month making him more than open to the prospects of returning.
“I was pretty surprised because one of the reasons I wanted to take some time off was to be at home and kind of getting my body right for pre-season. Last year I battled through plantar fasciitis and then with the personal stuff off the court,” White said.
“But the last month has been good, I’ve really enjoyed. It is a long way away from what I’m used to, but at the same time that’s what can make basketball so fun with the places you end up, and the relationships and networks that you build and the people you meet along the way.
“We had a pretty special, although we got thumped last week in Kalgoorlie, bonding trip as a group going away and to be part of that group with Rockingham is something I am enjoying.
“When my time with the group will end I’m not quite sure, but we have two games this weekend that we’d like to take care of business in and we’ll see where things go from there.
“I know the club is open to seeing what happens next season but at the same time I’ve enjoyed this past month and I consider this a place I could always come back to play at.”
The thing that has endeared White to what he has found at Rockingham is the fact that aside from Hire and import big Curtis Washington, it’s just a group of local players who have come through together with the Flames who are local products and bleed for the club.
That starts from coach Brad Samuelson down and it’s a culture that he instantly felt right at home with as soon as he arrived and he’s done everything to fit in the best he can ever since.
“You spend more time with certain guys than others just because of the work commitments and things that some of the older guys on the team have, but I’ve had the opportunity to sit down with as many of the guys as I can and get to know them,” he said.
“They are all local guys who just love basketball. They love rolling the balls out and playing, and it has been enjoyable to be part of. Brad has done a great job as a coach having coached a lot of them since they were juniors and you add in someone like Coops (Andrew Cooper) who helped WA win the national under-18s championship is pretty special.
“Add his IQ and what he does off the court is huge and Jacob Chance hasn’t been around but he has personal relationships with these guys and grew up playing with them, and his knowledge and experience with what he does with the Wildcats it helps these young guys develop and grow.
“They are just a good group of guys who are a lot of fun to be around and it reminds me a lot of my club back home at Manly. That’s probably why I’ve enjoyed it so much because they have such a strong bond with each other and it’s been pretty cool to be part of.”
White has actually enjoyed the chance to spend time living in Perth over the past month too. Initially that was north of the river housesitting for Wildcats captain Damian Martin and now he’s been staying in Rockingham to close out his stint.
While he has enjoyed it, he has had shivers every time he’s had to go by Perth Arena given he’s won just one of 16 NBL appearances against the Wildcats in the building firstly with the Sydney Kings and now the Illawarra Hawks.
“It actually hasn’t made me thinking of coming to play in Perth any easier. I was house sitting for Damian Martin the first three weeks I was here and anyone who knows that drive, you have to pass Perth Arena every single time you come down to Rockingham,” White said.
“Every drive I was in the car and even when I was going to play at Cockburn, I got in the car and drove by the Arena and usually when I’m doing that on game day we are getting spanked by 30.
“It was a good thing that it wasn’t the same outcome but in all seriousness, I’ve loved this experience. It’s a place that when you get over here, you enjoy your time even though as a visiting NBL team, it’s a very difficult place to play. It’s also a very enjoyable place to play because of that atmosphere but spending time staying here has been great as well.”
The reason White continues to be able to prove doubters wrong and be a strong contributor in the NBL and now be heading towards a 200-game milestone as a player who has captained his club and played in Grand Finals and semi-final series’ is through nothing but his hard work and desire to succeed.
He will admit to not being the most naturally gifted or athletically blessed player out there, but there’s a lot to be said for dedication and perseverance, and that will to succeed and that’s why White continues to be a valued member of an NBL club.
He takes pride in the fact that he’s worked incredibly hard for everything he’s achieved and that makes him respect others who have followed a similar path and earned everything in their careers.
Hire was always one of those players for White as he was becoming a triple championship winner and vice-captain with the Wildcats having started as a development player and like White, being told he would never be good enough to play in the NBL.
Now that White has got to know Hire even more over the past month and become his teammate, that respect has only grown tenfold.
“You just respect people who have the work ethic that Greg has. Until you are around it and now that I’m playing with Greg and have the opportunity to be his teammate, it makes it even more special than it was seeing it from afar,” he said.
“When you realise the battles that people like Greg go through day in and day out to get to where he is, and win championships, makes the personal relationship with that person even more special.
“You might not like certain guys on the court around the league or don’t know them away from basketball, but you respect who they are because they’ve been through battles personally that people don’t know about.
“I don’t know the battles people in Adelaide have been through and even though we put up a front we don’t like each other, I could probably sit down and have a beer or coffee with any of them, and still respect them.
“But when you get a chance to play with certain guys you learn a lot more about them and seeing Greg from afar, and now being his teammate, has given me greater insight into his journey. I now feel part of it with him and I have always respected what he’s done, but now our relationship and friendship will grow from here.”
White does admit to some nervous times in regards to his future before re-signing with Illawarra for 2018/19, but without that desperate pull to remain close to home, he would have been willing to move elsewhere if the Hawks didn’t want him.
But remaining with the Hawks and in Wollongong was always his first priority, and to have now re-signed and to be able to gear up for a fourth season in Illawarra couldn’t make him happier.
“It was definitely a relief, it always is at contract time. It was a little stressful there for a little while after the GM and one of the owners stepped down towards the end of last season and the club had priorities with a few other guys returning and filling the office spot,” White said.
“I think Mat Campbell is a pretty significant signing for the club and the right decision from my dealings with him over the last couple of months. It’s definitely a relief once you put pen to paper and I’m now looking forward to another season with the Hawks that’s for sure.
“To me Wollongong is home now and living there and being part of the Hawks was something I really wanted, and was passionate about. And talking to the owners and Bevo, I was always part of the plan but it was just the process of trying to re-sign certain other guys.
“At the same time, I’m not ready to be done with my career so if I wanted to continue playing I had to be open to the fact I might end up somewhere else. My partner and I were looking at that reality and a big reason in the first place to go to Wollongong from Sydney was the fact my dad wasn’t well.
“With his passing at the end of last season, there wasn’t that desperate need to be near Sydney as I am now so if I had to move for my professional career, then so be it because I’m not ready to be done. But I’m very happy to be staying with the Hawks without having to worry about moving.”
Having initially decided to take the off-season off to get himself right mentally and physically for another NBL campaign, White is actually glad to be 100 per cent healthy and is feeling as good as he has in all his time with the Hawks ahead of a pre-season getting underway.
“As you get older you start to learn things about your body and how to recover the right way, and how to prepare for games,” White said.
“I’m not out there doing line sprints like I was three or four years ago, I just get in and get my work done so I’m mentally ready to battle when I get on the court. We’ve still got a couple of months before we start up at the Hawks, but the body’s feeling great and mentally I feel unbelievable.
“A lot of weight was lifted off my shoulders towards the end of last year and obviously even more lifted knowing I’m playing pain-free. It’s been enjoyable to work on my body every day and I feel just as good, if not better, than when first started with the Hawks.”