Florida coach Mike White said starting senior point guard Chris Chiozza will be a game-time decision for Monday’s season-opener against Gardner-Webb.
Chiozza suffered a sprained left shoulder during UF’s 88-47 exhibition win over Jacksonville on Nov. 2.
“I’m hopeful, but it’ll be a pain-tolerance deal, of course,” White said. “But he’s progressing. He’s such a tough kid, you guys know that, physically and mentally. If he can play, he’ll play.”
Chiozza averaged 7.2 points and 3.8 assists last season. His improvement in the second half of the season and dramatic game-winning 3-pointer against Wisconsin in overtime in the Sweet 16 helped fuel UF’s Elite Eight run.
”He’s ridden a little wave of momentum,” White said. “He’s playing with a lot of confidence. He’s always really led by example but I think it’s increased. He’s in a good place and I think he’s going to have an ability to show people how good he is this year. He’s going to have more opportunity. And we need him, we need him to lead these guys. He’s as important to this team as anyone on the roster.”
If Chiozza can’t play Monday night at Exactech Arena, Florida will turn to junior guard KeVaughn Allen and freshman guard Mike Okauru at the point guard spot.
Florida’s decision to start the regular season Monday has given the Gators extra time to prepare for Gardner-Webb. White said the Gators had a high-intensity practice last Monday after last Sunday’s exhibition win over Tampa.
“I thought we got better on Monday,” White said. “ Those practices sometimes can be tricky, guys come in with the mindset that today must be light because we played yesterday. But our plan was to give them a couple of days off before the season started to really regroup physically and mentally. So to get after them on Monday, and the last two days we’ve been off, so we will be able to evaluate them in an hour. I don’t know where we are at but hopefully our guys took advantage of our only two or three couple days windows of the entire season … which I think is important.”
Sharing the ball
White said he’s been pleasantly surprised with UF’s ability to move and share the ball during the preseason. Florida had 16 assists in its exhibition win against Jacksonville and nine more assists against Tampa. The Gators had four scorers reach double figures in both games.
“Probably even a little bit more advanced than last year’s team at this point with that ball popping in practice on a daily basis and with our limited reps vs. opponents,” White said. “Not a lot of crazy (shots) going up. Knock on wood hopefully that continues but I like where we’re at from an extra-pass standpoint, from a great shot rather than a good-shot standpoint.”
Junior guard Jalen Hudson has been the leading scorer for the Gators in UF’s last two exhibitions, scoring 18 points against Jacksonville and 21 points against Tampa.
White said the 6-foot-6 guard from Virginia Tech also has improved defensively, though at times, due to his affable demeanor, can be a little too laid back.
“When we’re between the lines you’ve got to be a different guy,” White said. “ You’ve got to find a way to get a little bit more fiery.”
White said he’s trying to show Hudson and other players examples of players who are nice guys off the court and tough competitors on the court. Former Duke and NBA forward Shane Battier is a name that White often brings up.
“Jalen is a guy I’ve constantly challenged because offense comes so easy to him and he knows that,” White said. “But he can really score.”
Florida announced the signings of guards Andrew Nembhard and Noah Locke for its 2018 class.
The 6-foot-4 Nembhard, a four/five star point guard recruit from Thornhill, Ontario, is playing at Montverde Academy outside Orlando this season. The 6-3 Locke, a four-star recruit from Owings Mills, Md., is considered one of the top pure shooters in the 2018 class.
“We’re really excited about both of these young men and their future at UF,” White said. “They are outstanding guys and talented players who we expect to fit in well, both in our team’s culture and style of play.”
White said Locke, who made 53 3-pointers over the summer during the Nike EYBL circuit, is one of the best shooters he’s ever recruited.
“I hate to put that pressure on him but that’s what he embraces, shot-making ability,” White said.
Nembhard, according to White, is a high-level playmaker and leader capable of running a college offense. He’ll help fill some of the void left when Chiozza leaves next season.
“He has the ability to make everyone around him better,” White said.
What: Season opener
Who: Gardner-Webb vs. Florida
When: 7 p.m. Monday
Where: O’Connell Center