Heat Check

Filling in at center just another new challenge for Heat rookie Okaro White

Miami Heat forward Okaro White dunks in the fourth quarter of the Miami Heat and Philadelphia 76ERS game at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Wed., March 1, 2017.
Miami Heat forward Okaro White dunks in the fourth quarter of the Miami Heat and Philadelphia 76ERS game at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami on Wed., March 1, 2017. pportal@miamiherald.com

When you play for the Miami Heat you can get asked to do things you aren’t used to.

Okaro White knew that going in.

So when backup center Willie Reed went down in a heap last Saturday and was carted off with bursitis in his right ankle, White, a 6-8, 215-pound rookie who was playing small forward in Sioux Falls back in January, had a feeling he might get tapped on the shoulder and asked to help fill-in for Reed.

“I knew before they even came to me,” said White, who signed a two-year deal with the Heat a couple weeks back after playing through a pair of 10-day contracts. “With this team having so many injuries you know that slot was there and somebody was going to have to take it.

“It's definitely different, definitely tough,” he continued. “You don't realize how much energy you exert. I give it to Hassan [Whiteside] and Willie for doing that.”

Reed’s health has been steadily improving. Coach Erik Spoelstra said Reed “was able to do some court work” on Thursday just “not full speed, not full contact.” But he did make the trip with the team to Orlando so there’s a chance he could return to action Friday against the Magic.

Either way, White, 24, will continue to prepare to do whatever he’s asked to do.

In Wednesday’s blowout victory over Philadelphia, White played 26 minutes – nearly all of them at center – and had four points, three rebounds and three blocks. Together with Whiteside and James Johnson, White helped limit Sixers starting center Jahlil Okafor to six points on 3-of-11 shooting.

Except for “a few possessions at Florida State,” White said afterward he hadn’t played that much center in a game since his high school days at Clearwater High.

“O did a great job of stepping up and playing five,” Tyler Johnson said. “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.”

Said Whiteside: “I'm talking to him. I'm in his ear, getting him better. I told him it’s not easy down there. But he's getting better. He caught a lob [and dunked it]. I'm excited for him. He's learning, still learning at the position.”

With Reed out, coach Erik Spoelstra could have gone with veteran Udonis Haslem instead of White to share the backup center dutires James Johnson, who has played at the five in spots all year. But White’s hustle and grit makeup for whatever size he lacks and his speed at the position allows the Heat to play faster and be more athletic.

“He’s a competitor. We liked him because of his versatility, his toughness, the way he competes," Spoelstra said of White. “We thought because of his work ethic, he could develop some other aspects of his game.”

Since White was called up from Sioux Falls, the Heat has gone 17-3 over its last 20 games. He’s played in 18 of those games and is averaging 3.9 points, 2.6 rebounds and 15.8 minutes.

“Ultimately, if you’re a competitor, you want to contribute in whatever role,” Spoelstra said. “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.”