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Ex-Clearwater basketball star trying to make it in NBA

Tribune staff

Published:   |   Updated: July 16, 2014 at 04:47 PM

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— Okaro White has been on a path toward a professional basketball career since he first stepped on campus at Clearwater High.

The 6-foot-9, slim high-riser was ranked among the top prospects in Florida as an underclassman and, after leading Clearwater to the Class 5A state championship game as a junior, became known as one of the nation’s top high school seniors as a four-star recruit.

In 58 varsity games spanning his junior and senior seasons, White failed to score in double-digits just three times.

He eventually signed in 2010 with Florida State over a slew of suitors, including the Florida Gators.

Now, after four successful years in Tallahassee, White is on the cusp of making an NBA roster.

Last week, White was in Orlando playing for the Memphis Grizzlies’ NBA Summer League squad. The seven-day event featured 10 NBA teams: Boston, Brooklyn, Detroit, Houston, Indiana, Orlando, Memphis, Miami, Oklahoma City and Philadelphia. Teams were comprised of lottery picks preparing for the season and other draftees and unsigned rookie free agents — including White — trying to make NBA rosters.

“I’m just trying to make the most of it,” White said. “I’m trying to be real active on the defensive end. I thought I had a few deflections, a block or two and a steal or two, and I tried to be active on the boards. I really try to add each game. I had a good jump shot in the first half.”

In five games in Orlando, White averaged 8.5 points and 2.3 rebounds per game. He started three of the five games and averaged 15.8 minutes per game. On Saturday, White earned an official invitation to Memphis’ training camp.

In his first game, White had seven points, making both of his shots from the field and making both of his free throws. He also had two steals and three rebounds in 16 minutes as Memphis defeated Oklahoma City, 84-63.

In his second game, White had 11 points, four rebounds and a blocked shot in 16 minutes off the bench in an 85-82 loss to Detroit.

Joining White on Memphis’ summer team were Scottie Wilbekin, the former Florida guard and 2014 SEC Player of the Year who led the Gators to a 30-game winning streak and a trip to the Final Four, and former South Florida center Jarrid Famous, who last played in Lebanon.

Playing in an NBA atmosphere was quite different, White said.

“It’s very physical in practice, and just adjusting to the NBA style, it’s very fast,” he said.

In four years at FSU, White never missed a game. He played in 139 games, more than any player in program history, and graduated from FSU with 1,402 career points, 107 blocked shots and 704 career rebounds, all within the top 20 on the program’s all-time lists.

A proven winner, White was a starter on Florida State’s 2012 ACC championship team, the first ACC basketball title in program history, and played on four postseason teams. In his final year, White averaged 13.6 points and 6.8 rebounds and was named to the All-ACC defensive team.

Defense, White said, will be his strength going forward.

“(Memphis) is a defensive-minded program, and coming from Florida State, I was able to adapt a little,” he said. “We really work on defense here.”

Now, it’s a matter of showing the Grizzlies and other NBA scouts what he’s capable of contributing. White worked out for six NBA teams leading up to the draft and always favored Memphis.

“It feels great,” White said. “I really like Memphis. It’s a first-class organization, and I truly believe they have a lot of faith in me. I believe that’s why I got the minutes, and I just don’t want to let them down. Whatever they need me to do, that’s what I’m going to try to do.”

Suncoast News reporter Eric Horchy contributed to this version.

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