White’s in-state recruiting ties date back to Ole Miss

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New Florida basketball coach Michael White expressed in-state recruiting as a priority in his introductory press conference.

Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy, for one, knows about White’s ability to recruit the Sunshine State. As an assistant at Ole Miss from 2004-11 (under Kennedy from 06-11), White helped land a handful of high school players from Florida. The most notable was Chris Warren, a former All-SEC point guard from Dr. Phillips in Orlando who played for the Rebels from 2007-11. Warren was available because the Gators had already signed McDonald’s All-American point guards Nick Calathes and Jai Lucas in their 2007 class.

“It’s ironic that we had a lot of (recruiting) success in Florida, and that was at Ole Miss and that was without that Gator on our chest,” Kennedy said at the SEC spring meetings in Destin. “I think he’s going to do a great job in his own state. Mike has an understanding, he is commited to a style of play. I think he’ll recruit to that style. I think it will be entertaining. I’m excited for him to have the opportunity he’s been given.”

Asked about White as a recruiter, Kennedy said: “He’s very energetic. The No. 1 key to being a successful recruiter is knowing what you’re looking at, and I think Mike knows what he’s looking at.”

White made a recruiting splash earlier this week when he offered a scholarship to Class of 2018 point guard Drue Drinnon of Smyrna, Ga.

But the upcoming 2016 class is where White and his staff can make their mark within the state.  Per Rivals.com, there are eight prospects from within the state ranked in the top 60, led by 6-9, 260-pound five-star center Udoka Azubuike of Jacksonville (11th overall). The Gators have extended scholarship offers to Azubuike, 6-7 forward Maverick Rowan (43, Cardinal Gibbons, Fort Lauderdale), 6-8 forward Jon Isaac (46, IMG Academy, Bradenton) and 6-3 point guard Eric Hester (60, Oldsmar Christian, Oldsmar). Florida already has one commitment for 2016 — John Mooney, a four-star power forward (6-9, 210 pounds) from Altamonte Springs ranked 85th in ESPN.com’s top 100. But it’s unclear at this point if White will hold over the commitment that former UF coach Billy Donovan made more than a year ago.

Regardless, don’t be surprised if Florida bypasses any additions between now and next season to keep scholarship room for what has the potential to be a loaded 2016 in-state class.

Other notes:

— Donovan gave the Florida softball team a pep talk Wednesday night before its 7-2 Women’s College World Series opening win over Tennessee in Oklahoma City. It’s closing in on one month since Donovan left Florida to give the NBA a try with the Oklahoma City Thunder. He’ll turn 50 on Saturday.

— Donovan’s $500,000 contract buyout at Florida will go toward financially assisting his former UF assistant coaches who are between jobs. Former UF assistant coach Rashon Burno accepted a job as an assistant coach with Nebraska on Tim Miles’ staff, but John Pelphrey is still seeking employment. Anthony Grant has joined Donovan with the Thunder.

— Here’s an interesting story on why the O’Connell Center center renovation project was pushed back a year. An increase in cost of materials played a significant role in the delay.

— Kentucky, Georgia and Vanderbilt were named UF’s permanent opponents for basketball next season, per the Southeastern Conference’s new scheduling model. As a result, the Gators will play all three twice next season and in future years. Of the remaining 10 teams in the league, Florida will play only two twice and eight once in an 18-game league schedule.