But the negative press has hounded Whiteside as of late.
He showed up for measurements at Chicago’s NBA Scouting Combine in flip-flops – and consequently measured slightly shorter than he would have in basketball shoes. Then, in interviews with team officials and various media, he compared himself to NBA great Hakeem Olajuwon, with whom Whiteside has worked out, and Boston Celtics forward Kevin Garnett.
At the combine, Whiteside was quoted as saying “I’m looking to be a Hall of Famer.”
That’s prompted the likes of ESPN.com NBA writer Chad Ford to question Whiteside’s maturity and readiness for the league, while writing that the player “projected a confidence that bordered on naive arrogance.”
Buck’s reaction to that?
“Don’t we all want to be great?” he said Thursday in a phone interview with the Daily Mail. “I mean, don’t call it arrogance because he wants to be great.”
Whiteside has made a rapid ascent in basketball – from an unheralded high schooler to record-setting shot-blocker at Marshall to possible lottery pick later this month. Buck said that being in the lottery mix likely led to evaluators, both NBA and media, having more questions about Whiteside’s background.
“I’ve been around this business for a long time,” Buck said. “I’ve been around crazy teammates and malicious people, but this kid is a good kid. He is what he is in terms of worldliness, but I don’t think he should be taking the shots that he’s taking because he’s inexperienced in the world.”
That’s what has happened in recent weeks. When NBA Draft hopefuls were measured at the scouting combine, Whiteside showed up in flip-flops and measured 6 feet 11 1/2 inches in them – and 1 inch shorter without.
“People are making a big deal out of that, but if you look at it from the other perspective – and I know this is spinning it our way – but barefoot is the only measurement that really counts,” Buck said. “Some kids went up a half-inch with their shoes on, others went up nearly 2 inches.”
Whiteside, 20, encountered more problems during team interviews, which Ford reported as “rocky.”
“The negative comments about his personality in the media have led that same media to stating that he has ‘character issues,'” Buck said. “Yet they are talking about his personality. It is amazing that having a sense of humor, enjoying the process, being confident and have high aspirations is negative.”
Whiteside worked out with the Indiana Pacers, holders of the No. 10 pick, on Tuesday, along with big men like Baylor’s Ekpe Udoh, UTEP’s Derrick Caracter and Kentucky’s Daniel Orton.
Whiteside has eight more workouts scheduled with teams picking in the top 20.
According to Bob Hill, a former NBA coach with the Knicks, Spurs, Pacers and Sonics, Whiteside should go off the draft board sooner rather than later.
“I’ve worked with a lot of quality big men in my career so my frame of reference for post players is pretty good,” said Hill, who worked with Whiteside for five weeks. “From a talent standpoint he is head and shoulders above most people. There’s nothing he can’t do and that’s a big statement to make.
“One day he missed a block with his right hand and blocked it with his left hand, which I’ve never seen before. His talent is special. But he’s like these other young guys that are coming out of college after one year – when their maturity level meets their talent, they are going to be special.”
How special? Well, Hill was quick to squelch the Marcus Camby comparisons.
“He’s Kevin Garnett, not Marcus Camby,” Hill said. “He can be Camby in his sleep. But when I say all this it’s important that he understands he needs to mature. A lot of these guys are mature and they are waiting for their skill level to grow; it’s the opposite with Hassan. He’s very, very skilled. He just has to figure it all out. That’s all on him. Once he does, off he’ll go.”
Whiteside’s NBA career – successes or failures – is undetermined, but he’s a relative lock to receive the guaranteed multiyear, multimillion dollar contract that comes with being selected in the draft’s first round on June 24.
UCF Coach Donnie Jones, who recruited Whiteside to Marshall, said that imminent accomplishment by Whiteside – and his Herd hoops records – combined with his trouble-free off-the-court record make the recent criticism all the more puzzling.
“I’m proud of Hassan because he was able to help put Marshall on the map,” Jones said. “Sometimes we focus on what we thought he should have done rather than what he did. He’s a kid with an incredible future, and I’m proud of how he represented Marshall. It’s disappointing how some don’t realize what he did in his short time there.
“You are talking about a great player with no tattoos who doesn’t drink or party. He’s just a good kid.”
Buck also doesn’t have a tattoo, but said his reasoning – fear of his father’s reaction – is different than Whiteside’s lack of body ink. Buck said that Whiteside had a more mature rationalization.
“He told me, ‘I like the way God made my body,'” Buck said. “Isn’t that something? He doesn’t do anything bad off the court; he doesn’t have any tattoos or earrings; he doesn’t drink or chase women or have any children, but he has questionable character?”
Buck, who played at the University of Delaware in the early 1990s, has kept his client base small, and he carefully chooses only a couple of players to represent in the draft each year.
Buck said, unlike Whiteside, he didn’t have the length or athleticism or upside that his client has, but that didn’t stop him from dreaming big.
That’s why Buck embraces Whiteside’s attitude.
“I want him to have high aspirations,” Buck said. “As a kid growing up in Philadelphia in the ’70s and ’80s, I didn’t want to be Jamaal Wilkes, with all due respect. I didn’t even want to be Moses Malone. I wanted to be Julius Erving.
“I didn’t grow to 6-6, I couldn’t jump to the moon or palm the world, but that’s who I wanted to be. Why? Because he was the greatest.”