MIAMI – Okaro White had to think back to his days at Clearwater High School to remember the last time he played center on a consistent basis.
Sure, there were “a few possessions” while leading a couple of Leonard Hamilton’s FSU teams to an ACC Tournament title and a Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament, but otherwise the slender 6-foot-8 White has stuck mostly to forward. … until recently.
With Heat backup center Willie Reed missing the last two games because of bursitis in his right ankle, White has been one of the Heat’s reserve centers. During the Heat’s thumping of Philadelphia on Wednesday he was in the backup center behind Hassan Whiteside from the time his entered in the first quarter and for much of the game.
“He’s a competitor. We like him because of his versatility, his toughness, the way he competes,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We thought because of his work ethic, he could develop some other aspects of his game.
“Ultimately, if you’re a competitor, you want to contribute in whatever role. If the coach throws you in there and says, ‘Hey, you got to be a four,’ you don’t look at him sideways or you don’t make excuses. If a coach throws you in there at the five, you deal with it. That’s what Okaro does. He takes on every challenge head on and he doesn’t make excuses for it. You win some battles, you lose some battles. But you’re able to adapt, learn and impact winning, and that’s what he does.”
White played 26 minutes and contributed four points, three rebounds and three blocked shots in the 125-98 win that moved the Heat to within one game of a playoff spot. And, along with James Johnson, he helped hold Sixers starting center Jahlil Okafor to six points on 3-of-11 shooting.
“‘O’ did a great job of stepping up and playing the five,” said Tyler Johnson, who led the Heat with 24 points. “That’s not something you think about when you come in on a 10-day contract, playing center when you play the three in the D-League.”
White, who signed a two-year deal following his second 10-day contract, is averaging 3.9 points and 2.6 rebounds in 18 games. He joined the Heat on Jan. 17 and they have gone 17-3 since.
“It’s different,” he said about playing center. “It’s definitely different, definitely tough. You don’t realize how much energy you exert. I give it to Hassan and Willie for doing that.”
White was prepared to move over when Reed was injured.
“I knew before they even came to me,” he said. “With this team having so many injuries you know that slot was there and somebody was going to have to take it. I knew and I’m glad they prepared me well enough to be in that position.”