Ronrico White has been the best passer in practice all season.
Passing during drills is about all he's been allowed to do since undergoing hip surgery in early July, which has kept the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga junior guard from most practice activity until this past week.
"First it was walking, and the first day of school I got off crutches, then came jogging in a straight line," said White, who started all 32 games last year for the Mocs. "Then we started picking that up, and then it was cutting side to side."
White joined his teammates for about 20 percent of practice this week with director of sports medicine Todd Bullard determining which drills in which White could participate.
Neither Bullard, White nor coach Will Wade has an estimated date for White's full return. In a dream scenario, he'd be on the floor when the Mocs open Southern Conference play Jan. 4 at Furman.
"We're getting a used car," Wade said. "We're not going to the old 12-points-a-game Ronrico. This is not the same player people saw last year. He has one repaired hip and another bad hip."
Not playing, not practicing and just watching eats at White more and more as he continues his rehabilitation. Each week he gets a little closer to returning and adds to his physical activity.
"Seeing your brothers out there going through workouts and hard practices is tough, especially when you've been on the sideline and not sweating," White said. "We're all one big family, and when one of us is down, it's tough."
Some of those family members have helped White this season. Senior Zaccheus Mason and White had long talks about his return while the Mocs were on a four-game trip the Pacific time zone over Thanksgiving break. They discussed White's return and the tough times that he's had during recovery.
"We want him to be healthy when he comes back because he can help us," Mason said. "He brings a high IQ and skill level."
White's skill may have suffered because of the hip injury, but he's seen the game from a different perspective, which adds to his basketball savvy. He's been learning Wade's system in a different manner than his teammates -- from the sideline.
"You really see another side of the game from a different view," said White, who would like to be a coach after his playing days are done. "When you're playing, you can't see everything on the floor. When you see it from a coach's point of view, you get a better understanding of the game -- offensive spacing, honoring the corner."
White also has been sharing his knowledge over the past five months. That's been part of his job so far this season. He started at point guard -- not his natural position -- all but one game last year, and he has shared that knowledge and experience with freshman point guard Greg Pryor. White was waiting for Pryor after practice Thursday so the two could grab dinner together.
"Rico has meant a lot to me," said Pryor, who played against White during a team camp at Ole Miss after his freshman year of high school. "He's my second pair of eyes on the floor and off the floor. We'll talk about something in a timeout. If I make a mistake, he'll pull me aside and tell me how to fix it."
Only time will heal White's hip, and he may never be the same player he was before the surgery. But Wade said any on-court contributions from White at any point this season will be welcomed.
"His impact on this team goes much deeper than his points," Wade said Thursday. "He was in our transition [defense] drill today, and it was three times better because he knows nuances to the game.
"He has a lot of qualities that will help us win."
Contact David Uchiyama at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6484. Follow him at twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP