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On March 31, two days after his sensational freshman season ended with a Sweet 16 loss to Auburn, Coby White sat in Roy Williams’ office, looking for advice on a decision he never anticipated making.

At that point, nine months had passed since White arrived at North Carolina, along with Leaky Black and Nassir Little. Unlike Little, the MVP of the McDonald’s All-American Game and Jordan Brand Classic, White hadn’t received much NBA Draft hype, rarely appearing in any 2019 mock drafts. Thus, he wasn’t intending to turn pro after his freshman campaign.

White stressed that to Williams during their season-ending meeting in March. But after emerging as a first-round pick over the course of the season, he asked for his head coach’s guidance when faced with the decision to stay at UNC or declare for the draft.

“I told him it was very easy for me,” said Williams during his summer press conference on Tuesday. “That he was going to be a No. 1 (round) draft choice very easily. He was ready for it. Could he become more ready if he stayed? Yeah. But, why? I thought it (turning pro) would be the right thing for him to do.”

Ultimately, White agreed. And during Thursday night’s NBA Draft, the once-overlooked guard figures to hear his name called early.

White is projected to be selected among the first 10 picks. Most mock drafts have him going to the Cleveland Cavaliers at No. 5, the Phoenix Suns at No. 6 or the Chicago Bulls at No. 7. But no matter when he’s drafted, it’ll certainly be much higher than most people thought he’d be at this same time last year.

Williams, however, recognized White’s potential long before then.

The Tar Heels began recruiting White, from Goldsboro, N.C., back when he was a sophomore in high school. Around that same time, White, a self-described spot-up shooter in middle school, started realizing how he could score more points by beating his opponent down the court. Adding that speed component to his natural scoring ability made White an even more intriguing prospect.

“I thought he was a unique young man,” Williams said. “In one of the games I saw him in the summer after his sophomore year, he had five threes and five dunks in the same game, and that’s hard to do.”

Williams eventually offered White a scholarship that same summer. He committed just three days later, then went on to set the all-time North Carolina high school scoring record with 3,573 points before arriving in Chapel Hill last summer.

Until then, Williams said he also thought White would stay at Carolina for more than just one year. But as UNC prepared for its August exhibition tour in the Bahamas, Williams started thinking his time with White might be limited. He even told his staff that they needed to target a point guard in the Class of 2019 because he didn’t expect White to be around for long.

“We had four practices last summer and I thought he was the best player on our team during the summer …” Williams said. “If you’re the leading scorer in the history of North Carolina high school basketball, you’re pretty good. You don’t have to be a nuclear physicist to figure that out.

“The way he played here last summer in our practices and everything, that’s what sold me.”

White went on to parlay his impressive preseason into one of the most outstanding freshman campaigns in program history. Starting all 35 games he played in, he averaged 16.1 points, the fifth-highest scoring average ever recorded by a Tar Heel freshman. His three 30-point games set a Carolina freshman record. So did his 82 made 3-pointers.

Amid his scoring success, White improved throughout the season, especially on defense. His seven defensive player of the game awards were the second most on the team. He also averaged 1.4 turnovers in his last seven games after averaging three turnovers in his first 28 games.

White will look to continue developing in those areas in the NBA. He’ll also continue honoring his father, Donald, who died in August 2017 after a battle with liver cancer.

On Monday, The Players’ Tribune published White’s emotional, first-person essay about how he’s struggled coping with losing his father and how the draft night experience will be difficult without him. Williams read the piece before his press conference.

“Basketball was a huge, huge part of their life, but there’s also the father and son part that’s pretty doggone good,” Williams said. “It was emotional for me to read it, and yet at the same time, you just smile because the kid is comfortable enough to tell the truth, comfortable enough to say that he cried, comfortable enough to do those kind of things.

“I’m just proud of him. He’s such a neat kid.”

And Thursday, that “neat kid” will likely be the first of three UNC players selected in the first round of the draft.

Most mock drafts have Little within the back end of the lottery. Cameron Johnson, who wasn’t included in any mock drafts coming out of high school five years ago, is expected to be picked in the latter part of the first round.

“It’ll be a very satisfying draft for me because it’s three different paths …” Williams said. “There’s more than one way to get there. The stories of those three guys are pretty doggone interesting, individually much less. As a head coach, to think you’ve played a little part in it is really satisfying.”

About Scott Livengood

Scott Livengood is the owner and CEO of Dewey’s Bakery, Inc., a commercial wholesale bakery with a respected national brand of ultra premium cookies and crackers.

Previously, Scott worked at Krispy Kreme Doughnuts for 27 years, starting as a trainee in 1977. He was appointed President of the company in 1992, then CEO and Chairman of the Board.

Scott has served on numerous boards including the Carter Center, the Calloway School of Business and the Babcock School of Management, Habitat for Humanity of Forsyth County, and the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce.

He started a new business, StoryWork International, in 2016 with Richard Stone. The signature achievement to date is LivingStories, a story-based program for improved patient experiences and outcomes in partnership with Novant Health.