Adjusting to life in the NBA is often difficult for rookies. In the case of Royce White of the Rockets, who suffers from generalized anxiety disorder, it seems the adjustment could be a long and bumpy road that involves plenty of bus rides.
The 16th pick in the 2012 draft, White did not report to the start of training camp with the Rockets in McAllen, Tex. and now says he is is making plans to travel by bus to many road game this season.
“What it’s going to look like is every game that’s drivable, I’m going to get a bus for myself,” White said. “And I’m going to make that bus feel like home so that there’s a level of consistency in a job where inconsistency is very apparent because of the schedule. I’m going to try and level that out and make sure that my stress levels stay low and that my rest is regular and that my meals are regular and that as much as I can, draw consistency from a very inconsistent schedule. …
“People with mental illness, one of the most important things is that they have that consistency and routine. The girth of (my request) was, ‘Can I travel by bus to close enough games?’ “
Though the 6-foot-8, 260 pound forward never missed a college game at Iowa State, his condition — particularly a fear of flying — caused many NBA clubs to shy away in the draft, allowing the Rockets to scoop him up with one of their three first-round draft picks. The team knew it was taking a calculated risk, but with three picks and the potential upside to White’s talent, figured it was a worthwhile one.
Experts in the field say it is possible for someone with White’s condition to place professional sports and even to thrive. But it could take time and a great deal of patience to develop a level of comfort.
White had previously flown to Las Vegas to take part in the NBA Summer League and attended the rookie orientation program. He worked out with teammates at the Toyota in Houston in September and even was a featured guest a team function for season ticket holders.
But when the rest of the Rockets arrived in McAllen for the opening of training camp on Tuesday, White was not on hand.
In addition to his comments to ESPN.com, White issued a statement through his agent that said:
“It causes me anxiety to know that serious consequences could happen if I do not express what I deal with, or if I am not truthful enough to ask for what I need, to be healthy. For me, hiding is no longer a healthy option in treating my anxiety or OCD, so I have asked for some help from the organization to ensure long-term health for myself.
“It has been determined that without a specific plan in place, the current workplace is not healthy for me. I feel that it is essential to formulate the right plan for a better chance of execution, despite other timelines or agendas. The most important agenda to me is a plan that is healthy. Therefore, a plan has been requested that will support a healthy work environment. In addition to this, it has been requested that the standard requirements for players in regards to this plan be voided because it is not a standard situation.
“It is regrettable that I cannot be currently present, but long term health obviously should be the most important thing. I will continue to champion the cause for mental illness being met with understanding; if not, the ramifications are dangerous.
“Mental illness is a very individual based disorder – very unique for each person. So for those who come forward and ask for help, a very unique support plan should be the solution, given the nature of mental illness.
“No blame is being placed on the Rockets organization.”
White later tweeted a message that indicated he it was not a sudden anxiety attack that prevented him from attending camp.
“Anxiety isn’t keeping me from the camp, taking a Proactive approach to my mental illness instead of reactive is.”
If the delay now is to work out a proactive plan, the question is why that wasn’t done over the summer?
If White’s intention is to travel by bus to road games, that could be problematic. Road games at San Antonio (three hours), Dallas (four hours), New Orleans (six hours), Oklahoma City (nine hours) and Memphis (nine hours) are the only ones within reasonable driving distance and that does not even factor in the vagaries of the NBA schedule, including back-to-back games. It is possible that White could bus between certain pairs of cities during road trips. But during the first month of the 2012-13 season, the Rockets will also travel to Detroit, Atlanta, Portland, Los Angeles and Salt Lake City.
White told ESPN.com that he hopes to have a plan with the Rockets “in writing” and that the team has been “very understanding.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, White and the Rockets seemed to be working toward an agreement on traveling to away games, according to The Associated Press:
White said he has an agreement with the team to take a bus to select games. KRIV-TV reported that the agreement is pending league approval. The Rockets would not comment beyond a statement that said they “are committed to Royce’s long term success and we will continue to support him now and going forward.”
White said he offered to buy the bus himself.
The Rockets opened training camp this week in McAllen, near the Texas-Mexico border, the home of their developmental league affiliate.
White averaged 13.4 points, 9.3 rebounds and five assists at Iowa State last season. He initially enrolled at Minnesota, then left the program last year and eventually transferred after pleading guilty to theft and disorderly conduct in an incident at the Mall of America.
He’s been open about his anxiety throughout his career and bluntly broke it down for reporters at his introductory press conference in Houston in June.
“Here’s how it goes,” White explained. “I’m scared (going) to the airport, I’m scared going up, I’m uncomfortable in the air and I feel like a million bucks when we hit the runway.”
Still, it appears that what was a draft night gamble by the team and a dream come true for a talented young man has already become more of a challenge than anyone imagined.