By JEFF LATZKE
AP Sports Writer
OKLAHOMA CITY -- D.J. White sat down in front of a group of about 200 children this week to read them a book and encourage them to read.
If he couldn't make the kind of impact he'd hoped to have on the basketball court this season, he at least could contribute in another way.
White's rookie season with the Oklahoma City Thunder was cut short when doctors discovered a growth on the left side of his jaw this preseason. It proved to be benign, but the surgery will still keep him out for most of his first year in the NBA.
"Of course it's tough for me to sit out, especially me. I think I'm a very competitive person," said White, last year's Big Ten player of the year at Indiana. "Just to sit down and be sitting out when I think and believe I can help my team in so many areas, it is hard."
White was the first player since Alan Henderson in 1994 to average a double-double for the Hoosiers. He averaged 17.4 points and 10.3 rebounds and was the 29th overall pick in this year's NBA draft by the Detroit Pistons, who then traded him to the Thunder.
He went through summer league and voluntary workouts with the Thunder before the growth was found.
"We were really happy to be able to draft him. We liked him a lot when we worked him out and watching him on tape," Oklahoma City coach P.J. Carlesimo said. "We thought he did a good job more so in September -- not that he was bad in summer league -- but we were really encouraged by how he was playing at Southern Nazarene. He was looking really good in our workouts, and we were really happy."
There's still evidence of White's surgery a month later. His left cheek is puffed out and will remain that way for a while.
"It doesn't hurt at all. It's just swelling. That's it," White said after reading to children at James Buchanan Elementary School this week as part of the Thunder's "Read to Achieve" program.
Since he can't go through full practices, White has been trying to stay in shape by jogging and riding an exercise bike and he's also trying to keep his shooting sharp. He's expected to miss three to five more months, but is hoping he might be able to make it back sooner.
"All I can do is move on from that now and try to forget about it and learn as much as possible while sitting on the sideline," White said.
If not for the surgery, White might already have made his NBA debut. The Thunder are thin in the frontcourt, and even thinner after Chris Wilcox sprained his knee.
It could have been a deflating situation, waiting for his chance in the pros after toiling four full years in college, but Carlesimo has been pleased with how White has stayed engaged with the team.
"He's done a great job in terms of handling it. He's really upbeat," Carlesimo said. "There are lot of guys that would be walking around despondent, but he's not hanging his head at all. He's good about it, and that's great.
"Some guys don't do that. It's just 'Woe me,' and they feel sorry for themselves," Carlesimo added. "That will inhibit their rehabilitation. Because of his attitude and because of how hard he works, he'll rehab well and he's going to get better quicker than the average guy."
Two of his Thunder teammates can relate to White's situation. Nick Collison missed his entire rookie season after having surgery on both of his shoulders, and Robert Swift also missed significant time because of injuries.
The franchise will just have to be patient to see what White can do.
"He's going to be a good player," Carlesimo said. "The tendency is going to be for everybody to forget about him because he's going to be out for most of this year, but we think he's a good player and is only going to be better in the future."