When it comes to physical play, Bulls' rookie Coby White won't back down

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Any Bulls fan knows about Coby White’s speed. Anyone who has followed White's game knows about the rookie point guard’s hair.

At his best, his most dashing and daring, the former gift leads to the latter choice bobbing and flattening as he whooshes down the court, dribbling past defenders.

But there are quieter, slower moments when two other traits of White’s are standing out, noticed by teammates and coaches alike⁠—his physicality and maturity.

Listed at 6 feet, 5 inches and 185 pounds, White’s positional size has been cited by coach Jim Boylen before. But even the Bulls’ coach has been surprised by White’s refusal to back down from contact, a trait that forever can endear a player to Boylen and his football background.

“Since I’ve been in high school, I liked contact,” White said following Friday’s practice at the Advocate Center. “In high school, it’s how I played⁠—creating contact and getting to the rim. When I started my career in high school, I wasn’t really a shooter. I was a get downhill type of guy. Then I developed my shot. (Playing physical) is something I’m used to and been doing a long time.”

That White has matched up against teammates like Kris Dunn and Ryan Arcidiacono has forced the rookie to play that style. And it has been an easy adjustment.

“Kris is super strong and super physical, gets the job done. If you don’t play physical against him, he’s going to take the ball from you,” White said. “So you gotta (play physical) too.”

Dunn, who called White a “really good player,” also noted the rookie’s ability to listen and learn. And this is where White’s maturity and leadership qualities already have flashed.

White may have just turned 19 in February. But Rob Salter, White’s coach for four varsity seasons at Greenfield School in Wilson, N.C., said in an interview shortly after the Bulls drafted White that he’s one of the most natural leaders he has coached.

This is why White sounds undaunted by balancing competing against the likes of Dunn, Arcidiacono and Tomas Satoransky even while also trying to unite them.

“I appreciate it a lot,” White said of the veterans’ advice. “I’m a newcomer. I’m a rookie and playing a harder position. They’re helping me a lot. They’re really stringing me along and I can’t be more thankful for that.

“I also feel I can form (chemistry) quickly just because of the type of person I am. I’m open to relationships and I try to talk to everyone and try to build relationships with my teammates because that’s a big factor to build team chemistry.”

Given Boylen’s multi ballhandler system, White could end up playing off the ball as much as on it. This, too, suits White fine⁠—as long as the Bulls play fast.

“The main thing that fits me is he wants to run,” White said of Boylen. “The faster I get down the court, the faster you get into your offensive possession. I love to run. Whether I got the ball in my hands or not, if you run and get in transition, it creates more scoring opportunities for you.

“We got a multi ballhandler system, so really (point guard) through (power forward) can bring it up. Whoever has it brings it up. Sometimes it’s me. Sometimes it’s KD. Sometimes it’s Zach (LaVine). Sometimes it’s Arch. It varies. I’m comfortable. I wasn’t a point guard all my life. When I was around middle school, I always played (shooting guard). I can shoot the ball well enough to play (shooting guard).”

That trait wasn’t on display in summer league, where White shot a grisly 3-for-30 from 3-point range. But White sounds undaunted by that experience and still confident he can contribute this season.

“He cares. He wants to be great. He knows what he has to improve upon,” Boylen said. “When I met with him before we drafted him I think that’s one thing that stuck out was he has spirit where he wanted to improve. He knows that he’s not a finished product. And there’s some beauty in that from a young guy like that.”

Boylen often talks about not only being in condition to run but possessing the commitment to do so. For a player who had the ball in his hands so often in his lone season at North Carolina, White has embraced filling the wing and sprinting the floor if another player brings up the ball.

“He’s been really good,” Boylen said. “I showed some (film) clips of him running off the ball when he was at Carolina. What I've been impressed with with Coby is his maturity level on the floor and how quickly he can kind of pick up things and grow. So I don't see that as an issue, his commitment to run off the ball. He's pretty damn good on the ball, too.”

In other Bulls news, Shaq Harrison tweaked a hamstring and sat out practice, as did Denzel Valentine, Wendell Carter Jr., Luke Kornet and Chandler Hutchison. Boylen gave a rest day to Valentine, who is returning from missing an entire season to ankle surgery but who will play in Saturday’s fan-friendly open scrimmage at the United Center.

Carter remains sidelined with a bruised tailbone, Kornet with turf toe and Hutchison, who did some running on the side, with a hamstring injury.

The Bulls will take Sunday off in advance of Monday’s preseason opener versus the Bucks. Boylen said he’d experiment with different lineups in the preseason and the team will pick captains Oct. 21.

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