Dooley: White-hot forecast for UF basketball this season

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Florida basketball players KeVaughn Allen (5), Kevarrius Hayes (13) and Keith Stone (25) toss guard Chris Chiozza (11) in the air for a photo during media day Tuesday for the men's basketball program at the basketball practice facility. [Brad McClenny/Staff photographer]

Things are different now for Mike White.

His family is settled into the home at Haile Plantation with renovations complete and he’s finally got the right pictures on the walls of the offices at the Gator practice facility.

“I guess we can say we are fully moved into our offices and our home,” said the third-year Florida coach.

He knows the route from home to campus by heart even though he still needs GPS to find 34th Street. And he rekindled his love of paddleboard surfing this summer.

“The kids have embraced it, too,” he said. “Just not as much as their dad.”

The two-pronged fork of stability and success can bring a lot of positive things to a program and we’re seeing it with recruiting.

It also brings this — expectations.

And in that way, this is really a different kind of season for the Florida coach.

“Ultimately, if I could have one or the other, for our fans and our recruiting, I’d rather be in the Top 25,” White said. “A little more excitement. It speaks to the direction of our program.”

White looks younger than his 40 years on this planet and he’s much older in coach years. He has been a coach for this entire millennium, a grinder of sorts without the fancy glitter of preseason rankings.

But that has changed now. In his career as a head coach, four years at Louisiana Tech and this stint at UF, the polls have been closed in the preseason.

Florida did receive a few votes in last season’s preseason poll (perhaps a carryover from the Gators’ success under Billy Donovan) and White’s last LaTech team did scare up a few votes in both polls prior to that season.

And he did point out that two of his teams in Ruston, La., were picked to win their conference.

But this is a whole different stratosphere.

The preseason polls — which you can argue are irrelevant with a full-blown playoff in college basketball — are a ways from being released and practice doesn’t even start until Thursday.

But we know from the too-early polls that the Gators are held in high esteem entering this season.

NBC has them seventh, CBS 10th. USA Today picks Florida seventh. In ESPN’s last released poll back in May, Florida was eighth.

Sounds like a consensus Top-10 selection to me.

“Honestly, I haven’t given it a lot of thought,” White said Tuesday. “There are positives and negatives to each side. If you give it a lot of thought, you’re not where you should be.”

Who knows where the preseason polls would have Florida ranked if Chris Chiozza’s buzzer-beater against Wisconsin rattled out? But it did not and he’s back and that’s a checkmark for anyone voting in these things.

But here’s the thing about polls. The higher you are ranked, the bigger the game is for your opponent, especially on the road.

So that’s something White and his team will have to encounter this season that it didn’t last season.

“Personally, I kind of like the pressure,” said center Kevarrius Hayes. “A lot of guys on this team like it. It keeps that constant thought in your mind that the time is here.”

When it comes to preseason expectations, there is also this — voters and preseason magazine writers tend to be high on offense as if it was the only thing that matters.

If they see firepower, welcome to the Top-10 club. If they don’t and you can play the heck out of defense, your lack of sex appeal isn’t likely to get you high marks.

Florida thrived on defense a year ago. This year, it is a big question mark.

“These guys will be pretty talented offensively,” White said. “We’ll have a bunch of weapons. Hopefully, we’re in the same neighborhood defensively as last year’s group.”

That, of course, is what practice is for. It’s also a chance to develop the one course coaches try the hardest not to flunk — chemistry.

“We have great individual character, but that doesn’t always transfer into collective character,” White said. “If we have that, our experience will be a positive for us.”

It’s still a long way to the start of the season and a longer way to March. But — with offseason workouts in the rear view — the ride has already started.

And Mike White has never felt more comfortable behind the wheel.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

6 COMMENTS

    • Racking my brain trying to figure out who… 😉 ….the greatest coach that has walked the UF Campus, in my opinion – all in. Love Spurrier, but there’s something about Billy D that just rose above it all. Miss his professionalism and matter of factness and his heart. And as much as we now malign Urban – it was the two of them that brought UF unprecedented success (4 Nat’l Champs in a 3 year period across the 2 sports).

      Now with White – it does feel like a rebirth of sorts – at least for bball. His professionalism, his humility, his diligence, his wisdom. Love all of that. Wish Coach Mac all the success in the world this season – and I think football’s a tougher gig by far for a coach. I just know that there’s a direction that you can feel for the bball program that will hopefully bleed over into the football program. The coach and the kids doing things the right way.

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