SAN FRANCISCO — After his junior season at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs, Derrick White knew he needed to have a difficult conversation with Alex Welsh, his best friend and teammate. And Welsh, for his part, knew the conversation was coming, not that that made it any easier.
It was the spring of 2015, and Welsh had become acutely aware that White was too good of a player for the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference — at least one opposing coach had begun calling him “the R.M.A.C. LeBron” — and for Division II basketball. It was time for White to transfer in order to play against tougher competition.
“I remember when he told me, and it was like he was super nervous,” Welsh said. “And he asked me, ‘Are you mad at me?’ And I was like: ‘No, I’m not mad. But I’m sad!’ ”
The N.B.A. finals are cluttered with former lottery picks who long ago seemed bound for greatness. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, two of White’s teammates on the Boston Celtics, were can’t-miss stars coming out of high school. Golden State teammates Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry grew up watching their fathers play in the N.B.A.