HIDALGO, TEXAS (AP) - Royce White says he is ready to focus on basketball.
The 6-foot-8 White, the 16th overall pick last summer, will play for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers in Tuesday’s game against Maine, one day after reporting to the Houston Rockets‘ developmental league affiliate. He has been away from the Rockets since early November after requesting an arrangement to help him properly treat his diagnosed anxiety disorder while balancing the demands of the NBA schedule.
“It was tough not being able to play, but it was necessary,” White said. “I feel like I’ve been right on the verge of coming back the whole time. I’ve kind of been just waiting right on the edge of my seat to come back. I’m not really nervous or anything. I’m just ready to get back out there.”
The Rockets chose White in the first round after one spectacular season at Iowa State, where he led the Cyclones in scoring (13.4 points a game), rebounds (9.3), assists (5.0), steals (1.2) and blocks (0.9). White missed the first week of training camp after sensing that his mental illness would become more difficult to manage if he didn’t ask for certain conditions. He and the team agreed to allow him to travel by bus to some games while he confronted his fear of flying and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
White soon stopped participating in team activities and said on Twitter that dealing with his mental health took precedence over his NBA career. He refused an assignment to the D-League in late December, and was suspended without pay on Jan. 6. White and the Rockets reached an agreement on Jan. 26, and he was reinstated.
“I think it’s all been real positive,” White said of the ordeal. “I feel blessed and honored to be part of what has taken place the last two months despite how tumultuous it might have seemed, it was a very progressive kind of thing and it needed to be done.”
White has been outspoken on Twitter throughout the process, and he criticized the Rockets at one point for putting out “extremely misleading” and “a lot of times totally inaccurate” information. He’s drawn supporters and detractors, and acknowledged that he’s even received death threats.
“I expected a negative reaction, for sure, just because I’m aware of the stigma that’s represented with mental health” he said. “But as far as how hateful it got, you know death threats and things like that are way out of line, I think, for sporting types of interactions. It suggests a lot about mental health.”
“A lot of the people who actually said really hateful things have now come back and apologized and admitted they deal with mental health issues,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of dynamic to what we saw as far as reaction.”
“I appreciate the Rockets and the NBA being patient with such a new topic like mental health,” he said. “Now, I’m moving forward and this isn’t the end or the beginning. It’s just another piece and we’ll just try to do the best we can with it.”
AP Sports Writer Chris Duncan in Houston contributed to this report.