Coby White accepts McDonald's All-American game jersey
Coby White, a senior guard at Greenfield School, will be the last of Bonita White's three children to leave home. He'll head to UNC this summer, part of the Tar Heels' 2018 basketball recruiting class. And Coby, a tough competitor on the court and the leading scorer in North Carolina high school basketball, gets emotional when he talks about leaving.
“I might cry when I leave my mom,” he said. “That’s my rock. I’m going to miss seeing her everyday, definitely. I don’t want to leave but I have to. I’m ready to leave, but that’s one of the things I don’t want to leave. She’s my everything. I don’t even like to think about it.”
Bonita White said there isn’t much difference in the dynamics of her relationships with her three children: Tia, William and her baby, Coby, a 6-5, 170-pound five-star combo guard and the No. 2 recruit in the state. After some thought, she admitted there is one area where she will treat Coby, who will play for the East in Wednesday's McDonald's All American game in Atlanta, a little different from his siblings.
“If something is going on, I don’t keep stuff from him, I share it, whatever is going on. I don’t hold anything back,” she said. “That became more prevalent when his dad was sick."
Coby White's father, Donald, died from cancer in August, something the high school senior declined to talk about. Since his dad's death, it's been just Coby and Bonita at home.
Bonita said her youngest son has been strong since losing his father, but on certain days she can tell it's bothering him. Coby might disappear for a few hours in his room, a sure sign to Bonita that he's struggling. Bonita doesn't tweet, but she follows Coby on Twitter and sometimes can tell from his tweets that he's having a rough day.
“But for the most part, he stays so busy that he does pretty well with it,” Bonita said. “He’s very strong.”
'A regular kid'
Coby, a senior at Greenfield School in Wilson and the No. 23-ranked recruit in the country, stays busy with basketball and school, but the best prep scorer in the state that produced Michael Jordan, John Wall and James Worthy still has plenty of chores he has to do at home.
“He still takes the trash out, he cleans the bathroom, he makes sure his bed is made up every morning,” Bonita said. “He still does the same thing as a regular kid. We don’t treat him any different, he still has the same responsibilities as home, he still has the responsibilities with his school work.”
The fame and recognition that comes along with being a top recruit have never gotten to Coby.
Rob Salter, Coby's coach at Greenfield, knew the senior's popularity was on the rise, but he also knew Coby, the best basketball player he says he's ever coached, would be able to handle it and stay grounded.
“If you could teach somebody how to handle this situation, he does it perfectly,” Salter said. “I tell people he’s one of the best players I’ve ever seen, but he’s a better kid. But that’s giving all the credit to his family. You would never know that Coby White is a five-star basketball player. He treats everyone the same and that’s why they love him."
A very small circle
Alec Jacoby White can maneuver through not one, but two, small Eastern North Carolina towns and remain anonymous.
Occasionally residents in Wilson, where he goes to school, or Goldsboro, where he lives, might take a look at White, who has been called Coby since he was a baby, and recognize the hair, his trademark Afro that he’s been growing out since the seventh grade. There is also a chance they’ve seen one of his highlight packages on YouTube.
White averages almost 30 points per game, and recently passed former Eastern Alamance guard JamesOn Curry, the NCHSAA all-time leading scorer with 3,307 points. NCISAA, which Greenfield is a member, doesn’t keep individual stats, but White passing Curry makes him the unofficial all-time leader.
White is also the John Wall Holiday Invitational all-time leading scorer, after racking up 119 points in three games this past December, breaking a record set by former UNC guard, and Final Four MVP, Donald Williams, who scored 115 in 1990, 10 years before White was born.
On Wednesday in Atlanta, White will play for the East team, along with Duke signee R.J. Barrett, in the McDonald’s All American game, the premier high school All-Star showcase in the nation.
That’s a lot of accolades and recognition for a kid who prefers to spend his free time in bed, watching Netflix. Right now he’s binging on ‘The Defenders’ a Marvel series about superheroes who form an allegiance to fight crime.
When he's not playing basketball, he's a pretty typical teen. He likes to hang out with friends, which usually involves going to basketball games, go to the occasional party and eat at Cook Out, where his go-to order is a big double burger with cheese and mayo and two chicken ranch wraps, no lettuce.
“I know my exact price,” White said with a smile. “It’s $5.81 every time. I’m going to have to cut that out once I get to Chapel Hill.”
His mom, Bonita, added, “There’s nothing special he does. He does keep his core (group of friends) very small. At home there’s only maybe about two friends he hangs around. He keeps that circle very, very small. Very few people, people out in the community, they don’t know who Coby is.”
Around Greenfield School, a former equestrian training center located along highway 42 in Wilson, White is just a regular student. Greenfield is K-12, and the elementary school kids love White, Salter said. But step inside any of the high school classrooms and good luck picking out the basketball star, aside from the hair, or course.
“Obviously, he’s the best (player) to come through here, but you would never know that,” said Salter, who met White when he was an eighth grader. “He’s just one of the kids and he doesn’t want to be known. If you follow him around campus you would never know that he’s one of the best guards in the country, you would never know that.”
Falling in love with basketball
White's father introduced Coby to basketball when he was about three or four years old.
When he was younger, Coby would watch his older brother, Will, who also played at Greenfield and is now an assistant coach at Mars Hill. But it wasn’t until middle school when Coby says he fell in love with basketball. He started working out more often, spending hours in the gym, usually from 1 pm. until whenever the gym closed. One day he made up his mind that he wanted to be one of the best.
“One summer I felt like this was what I wanted to do,” White said. “I felt like I could be tops in the country one day, so I started working out everyday during the summer, started going to the gym.”
White met some of his best friends at the gym. He figured if that’s where they were, playing basketball, trying to get better, having fun, they must be good people. From middle school to now, especially now, White has had to weed out who he hangs with. Friends he had when he was younger have fallen by the wayside. That, Bonita said, is by design. Coby has seen too many people with bad intentions and habits around Goldsboro and Wilson and doesn’t plan on becoming one of them.
“Once I transferred schools (from Eastern Wayne Middle School) some of my old friends I was close with, they started doing stuff I wasn’t down with,” Coby said. “I knew that wasn’t what I was supposed to be doing so I fell back.
Heading to Chapel Hill
White’s path will lead him to Chapel Hill in a few months. White committed to North Carolina in the summer of 2016 and signed with the team in December 2017. In February turned down an offer to play in the Junior Basketball Association, a new league being formed by LaVar Ball that’s supposed to serve as an alternative to playing college basketball.
White is set to enroll in summer school classes in June at North Carolina. There he will join a top 10 recruiting class that includes Nassir Little, a five-star forward from Florida and the No. 6 recruit in the nation, and Rechon Black, a four-star forward from Concord who's ranked No. 5 in the state.
As a basketball player at UNC, thousands will know White's life story. Basketball players at big time schools, especially ones like North Carolina, can live in a bubble, superstars among the regular students, but White plans to get out and meet as many people as he can.
“I’m just looking forward to what type of relationships I build with people. Like if I can build good relationships, not just with the team, but interact with people on campus,” White said. “That’s something I’m nervous about, too. I’m going to be in a new environment with a whole bunch of people I don’t know, but I guess the basketball part will help me out.”
It’s not lost on White that basketball players at UNC have a certain level of celebrity, even if they don’t want it. He wants to stay grounded, though, and has a strategy in place for that.
“I already know a bunch of people from Greenfield who go there,” White said. “I’ll be hanging with them a lot and I’m pretty sure they’ll be hanging with other people. I’m not like a party type guy, so I’ll probably hang with them any chance I get.”
However long it takes for Coby to adapt to college life, it won’t keep Bonita up at night. Like Tia and Will, she raised her kids to leave the house one day. She knows Coby will be able to take care of himself.
She is comfortable with the UNC staff and says her youngest son is in good hands. It’s something she picked up on the first time she met Roy Williams during an unofficial visit in 2016, she said. Coby and Bonita met with Williams in his office at the Smith Center, and it didn’t take long for Bonita to sense a good vibe she felt from Williams and the environment in Chapel Hill. Call it a mother’s intuition.
“Coach Williams invited us to his office and we sat around and talked about, not just about basketball, it was just about anything, and I just felt very comfortable with him," Bonita said. "Then his players all made a point of coming to you to speak ... and it wasn’t like they were made to do that. ... So you could tell the type of players he selects, their personalities, their character. They all have similar characteristics like Coby. And Coby is a person who is big on family, period. So Chapel Hill is big on family, so that’s how I just felt like he was in the right place.”
When Coby transitions to that new basketball family in Chapel Hill, he'll be playing for his dad, the one who introduced him to the game all those years ago. But he'll also leave it all on the court for his mom, who will be just a short drive away from Chapel Hill when he needs her.
McDonald's All American game
When: Girls game, 5 p.m.; boys game 7 p.m., Wednesday
Where: Philips Arena, Atlanta
TV: Girls game, ESPN2; boys game, ESPN