SEC notebook: White has done good job following legend at UF, Kennedy says

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Florida coach Mike White is none too happy of a play during Friday's quarterfinal game against Arkansas at the Southeastern Conference tournament in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

ST. LOUIS — Former Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy has always thought highly of Florida coach Mike White.

White worked under Kennedy as an assistant at Ole Miss for five seasons (2006-11) before taking his first head coaching job at Louisiana Tech. When White was hired at Florida in 2015, Kennedy was one of the first to point out that White would not back down from the challenge of replacing a future Hall of Fame coach in Billy Donovan.

Working as a guest analyst for the SEC Network in SEC Tournament coverage this week, Kennedy said White has performed as he expected. White has won at least 20 games in all three of his seasons at UF and is about to lead the Gators to their second straight NCAA Tournament appearance. Last season, White led the Gators to their ninth trip to the Elite Eight in school history.

“Mike’s done a great job,” Kennedy said. “Last year, with that run to the Elite Eight, it allows him to exhale because obviously you are walking in behind a legend in Billy Donovan, expectation is high and rightfully so with that program. And I thought last year Mike did a great job and this year, he loses some valuable pieces and they are playing well.”

Florida is at 20-12 after losing to Arkansas 80-72 in Friday night’s SEC tournament quarterfinals. The Gators have reached 20 wins despite losing freshman forward Chase Johnson to two concussions and not getting senior center John Egbunu and freshman center Isaiah Stokes back from rehabbing torn ACLs.

“Obviously they are a group that’s dependent on making perimeter shots,” Kennedy said. “When they are making perimeter shots they can beat anyone in the country and they showed that throughout the course of the season.”

The next step for White will be to show that he can sustain success when the last Donovan recruit, senior point guard Chris Chiozza, leaves the program. Florida does have a five-star incoming point guard prospect to perhaps replace Chiozza in Class of 2018 6-foot-4 signee Andrew Nembhard. Two other incoming 2018 freshman signees — 6-2 shooting guard Noah Locke amd 6-5 swingman Keyontae Johnson — are top 100 national prospects.

“Chiozza is a guy along with Kasey Hill prior, that did a good job from a point guard role of distributing the ball and creating offense,” Kennedy said. “That’s obviously important. But Mike is a smart guy. He’s always had good guards and he’s been able to adapt to his personnel.”

Kennedy said he’s enjoyed working on TV the past two days. The former 12-year Ole Miss coach first announced he was stepping down at the end of the season in early February, then left the team Feb. 19 because he felt it was becoming a distraction. Tony Madlock served as acting coach for Ole Miss the rest of the season. Kennedy’s 245 wins are the most in Ole Miss history.

“You know how long that will stand in,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “We’ll all be dead. Everybody in this room will be dead before someone gets as many wins as he gets there.”

“It’s been great these last two days,” Kennedy said. “Good guys. And it’s a lot less stressful than standing up on that other side of the floor, I promise you.”

But Kennedy hasn’t ruled out a return to coaching next season.

“I don’t know what the options are going to be,” Kennedy said. “I enjoy this (TV). I had a great run at Ole Miss, 12 years as a head coach in the SEC. It was a tremendous blessing for me and I’ll just kind of see what my options are and what it looks like moving forward.”

Weatherspoon OK

Mississippi State announced freshman guard Nick Weatherspoon was OK after taking a scary fall and being taken off the court on a stretcher during Tennessee’s 62-59 quarterfinal win over the Bulldogs.

Weatherspoon actually took a pair of blows, the second coming when his older brother, Mississippi State junior guard Quinndary Weatherspoon, landed on him after getting fouled on a basket attempt in transition.

SEC coordinator of officials Mark Whitehead released a statement as to whether officials should have stopped play when the younger Weatherspoon was first hurt.

“The play on which Nick Weatherspoon was injured unfolded in a rapid sequence of events after Nick initially fell under the Mississippi State basket,” Whitehead said. “The officials did not recognize Nick was injured until after the transition that led to the completion of play where, unfortunately, he remained on the floor.”

Close encounters

The balance of the SEC during the regular season has carried over into the conference tournament. The four tournament games Thursday were decided by 11 points, the closest four-game round in SEC Tournament history.

Overall, six of the first 10 games in the tournament were decided by 5 points or less.

“The league should be proud,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “There’s not another — I watched the 8-9 game yesterday. It was Texas A&M and Alabama and the 8-9 game, there were pros out there. I mean, there are a lot of pros out there and that just tells you how good this league is. That was a great game and it’s been a great tournament.”

Sexton shining

The biggest star through the first two games SEC Tournament has been Alabama freshman point guard Collin Sexton, who has led the ninth-seed Tide to an improbable run to the SEC Tournament semifinals.

The 6-foot-3 Sexton had 27 points and 5 assists, including the game-winning finger roll at the buzzer, in Alabama’s 71-70 win over Texas A&M. Sexton followed that up on Friday with 31 points, 7 rebounds and 1 assist in the Tide’s 81-63 rout of Auburn. The two wins have improved Alabama’s record to 19-15 and likely secured an NCAA Tournament bid that didn’t look promising going into the tournament. Alabama had closed the regular season losing five straight games.

“We knew when we came in this tournament, we had to win games, and we wanted to because we have a lot to prove,” Sexton said. “I feel like everybody counted us out.”

On the hot seat

Georgia coach Mark Fox played possum when asked about his job security following UGA’s 62-49 loss to Kentucky in the SEC Tournaments. Fox has led the Bulldogs to just two NCAA Tournament appearances in nine seasons, and patience in the fanbase is running thin.

“I’m sure that (athletic director) Greg (McGarity) and I will meet at some point and have conversations about how to continue to improve and grow our program,” Fox said. “I’m not sure when those conversations will occur.”

Calipari made a case for Georgia keeping Fox, alluding vaguely to the FBI probe involving illicit payments in college basketball: “There’s a lot of stuff going on out there, stuff that’s not going on at Georgia. They’re in good hands. That has to mean something.”

 

 

13 COMMENTS

  1. Remember Donovan’s last year the Gators were a game below .500. NIT in the first year, Elite Eight in the second and at least to the NCAA in year 3 with a bad hand (all injuries in the front court). Will be interesting to see what happens with Hudson, Egbunu and Allen in the offseason. I think this could be a really good team if some of those guys come back. Stone could have a breakout season and I think Okaru will improve quite a bit. Adding Stokes to the Hayes, Gak and Bassett rotation will at least provide better depth. If Johnson gets healthy seems like we’ll have a much better front court. Johnson’s health is an enigma but he’s the most offensively gifted out of this group and Stokes is the most physical. Backcourt will get an infusion with the 2 freshman (Nembhard and Locke) so we should be able to replace Egor and Hudson/Allen’s production depending on who leaves and who comes back. I think the future is bright with White.

  2. Absolutely YES, White is off to a decent start. He’s earned the right to be tested with his own recruits and to get past a rash of injuries to his big men. BUT, BUT, BUT! White MUST learn to be visibly a lot tougher on his players when they go wildly out-of-control and take taking stupid, inept, impulsive shots. Also, when they go off-the-rails with careless dribbing and passes.

  3. I agree with many of Wadeless’ comments. I would only add the big men for U.F. need much improvement over the next 7 months or so, before the ’18-’19 basketball season begins.
    This statement is a fact and not an opinion: this year only ‘2’ of the ”’bigs” for U.F. played and contributed significantly for Florida: and they were Hayes and Stone, PERIOD!
    And it’s not fair to Stone to consider him a true big man lie a ‘5’. But he will benefit greatly next season if some other medium to big sized guys play an entire season, without getting concussed or injured next year (I’m talking to you, Bassett, Johnson, and Stokes).
    Ultimately, the future is bright under Coach White, especially since ”THE POSERS” here on this site (like: bf, who is an F.S.who bee-otch), perpetuate lies and deceptions about being a ”Gator fan”, and ONLY COMMENT HERE WHEN THE GATORS lose.
    But real Gators know what’s up, and WHAT TIME IT IS! Chomp-chomp!

  4. I’d say, with the Gators going to the final 8 last year and on their way again to the NCAA tourney this year. Also, he has put together an outstanding recruiting class for next year. But Stokes has to step up in the middle next year. Go Gators

  5. I am not sold on Mike White …..his team is very inconsistent and undisciplined, traits of a poorly coached team. The talent is certainly there and on some nights look as if they are a top ten team…the next nite they appear an SEC bottom feeder. Very disappointing!

  6. Someone tell me that before the 06-07 National Championship teams that they didn’t see inconsistent teams from Donovan. He was being constantly berated on talk radio for losing in the first weekend of the tourney. Name a school that’s not one of the “blue bloods” that plays consistent basketball. If Coach White wins 20 games a year and keeps us in the tourney every year, he is doing a GREAT job! Sadly, college basketball comes down to how you do in the tourney. The down side of having a playoff with a lot of teams invited, is the regular season is forgotten once the postseason starts.
    Go Gators!!

  7. UF is not a basketball school — never has bee., never will. We were fortunate and blessed to have BD here for all those years, but the success of that era was the exception not the rule. White is doing the best he can at a school that simply doesn’t have the heft to play with the big boys.

    Now bring on the pigskin! Go Gators!!!

    • what? UF has only one less National Championship than Kansas and Louisville, the same number as Villanova and NC State, and more than Syracuse and Georgetown. UF most certainly is a Basketball school. and a Football school, a Baseball school, a Softball school, a Gymnastics school, a Soccer school, and the list goes on!
      Support ALL of Gator athletics, not just Football. No other SEC school even comes close!

      • When you talk to KY and Alabama fans,they are quick to throw the “we have this many titles” when it comes to their programs. my response is sure KY you have eight titles in basketball,sure Alabama you have sixteen in football. how many do you have in baseball,softball,swimming,track and field etc.? how many Rhodes scholars do you have? Fulbright scholars AL or KY? didn’t think so! Florida has it all,i tell them. at UF EVERY program, whether it’s academic or athletic, is expected to be the best! not second best, but the best! that’s the Gator way! Basketball and football,that’s all they have.plus they live in states that have nothing else,no pro teams at all and they don’t have to compete with all the major attractions the state of Florida has to offer. this all these poor people have,sort of feel sorry for them.

    • GatorG, when you say “we were blessed to have BD here for ‘all those years'”, you’re acknowledging, maybe unintentionally, that Donovan established something of a basketball tradition at UF. Before Spurrier, there was no real football tradition at UF either. Since Spurrier, only Meyer has duplicated that kind of success. White may never approach the success that Donovan had, but there’s no reason to think that another basketball coach can’t win big consistently at UF.

      The football tradition is only a few years older than the basketball tradition, such as it is. In fact, the basketball team, under Lon Kruger, had a shot at the national title in the 1994 Final Four a year before the football team had its first shot at a title against Nebraska.

    • Saying that we can only be good in one sport is like saying that we can’t walk and chew gum at the same time. We are UF and we can dual task, and triple task and quadruple task and more, and we prove that year after year. So, GatorG, you sound like someone who just gives up at the first feeling of a let down. Well, pull it together like most Gators do. Go Gators!

  8. I travel the country a lot and always have the local Iheart sports talk radio station on as I drive. I’ve heard every coach from Calipari to Coach K to Coach Self to, well, you name the coach and someone wants them fired. I guess the only way White gets to stay at Florida is win the NCAA every year. Look at Urban Meyer. He won 2 national titles in 4 years and some fans wanted him tarred and feathered. And there is an unpublished reason why Meyer left Florida, and I got it from those in the Ath. Dept., but I’ll never say it. Just that Meyer needed to get out of Gainesville to save his family. My son knew his daughter at FGCU in Ft. Meyers and she confirmed the rumor to him. Let it rest in peace. Can’t change anything.
    I think White is a good coach. His 3rd year, without Cheeze and, hopefully, with Egbunu and Hudson back, will determine his fate. The recruiting class is good.