Newly-hired Florida men’s basketball assistant coach Al Pinkins said he’s often asked the question, how life would have been different if his path wound up football instead of hoops.
A star high school quarterback out of Camilla, Ga., Pinkins had scholarship offers to play both football and basketball at Auburn. At 6-foot-6, Pinkins had a strong arm and the height to see over the line while scanning opposing defenses. He helped lead Mitchell-Baker High to back-to-back state football titles in 1990 and 1991.
“It was straight spread, one back, three wide receivers, trips right, a lot of run and gun,” Pinkins said of the offense he ran. “Kind of Steve Spurrier Fun and Gun.”
But when both Auburn football coach Pat Dye and basketball coach Tommy Jo Eagles were fired due to NCAA violations, Pinkins ended up at Chipola Junior College. Two years later, when Pinkins enrolled at North Carolina State, he still wanted to play both football and basketball. But N.C. State’s football coach at the time, Mike O’Cain, wasn’t interested in him coming out for the team.
“Basketball was kind of my first love,” Pinkins said.
Pinkins finished his college basketball career at N.C. State, then played six seasons in pro basketball overseas and at various minor league spots. For the past 15 years, Pinkins has built a successful career as an assistant basketball coach, with the reputation for getting the most of the big men he coaches.
At Florida, Pinkins will be coaching a group of frontcourt players who have shown flashes of potential, but were at times pushed around, particularly in SEC play. Florida finished last in the league in rebounding margin. Scoring in the post was often a challenge as well.
Two starters return in center Kevarrius Hayes and forward Keith Stone, along with what could be a plethora of depth, depending on health. Forward Dontay Bassett is 100 percent and forward Chase Johnson has been cleared for Summer A workouts after missing most of last season due to concussion symptoms. But center Gorjok Gak is coming off knee surgery, while center Isaiah Stokes has only been cleared for half-court workouts after sitting out all of last season while rehabbing a torn ACL.
Pinkins said his initial goal is to get his big guys to finish better around the rim, which was an issue for all of UF’s frontcourt players last season.
“Ultimately the goal with bigs is to finish around the rim whether it’s left side, right side, middle and then mainly through contact,” Pinkins said. “If you look at bigs around the country, the hardest thing for them to do is to finish with contact, either side of the rim, either hand.
“My focus right now is clearly on finishing shots, quite a few guys didn’t do a great job of it last year on this team. That’s their focus this year is finish, everything is finishing, this week they’re probably tired of hearing me say finish.”
Rebounding, Pinkins said, will be the next step. Often, Florida’s rebounding schemes center around their big guys having blockout responsibilities in order for guards to grab rebounds and initiate offense quicker in transition. But Pinkins said he feels there are still opportunities for UF’s frontcourt players to grab rebounds outside their area.
“We’ll do a ton of rebounding drills,” Pinkins said. “I’m a huge rebounding guy.”
Pinkins said he’s long followed the career of Florida coach Mike White, and the duo even worked together for a brief stretch in 2011 under Andy Kennedy at Ole Miss before White left for his first head coaching job at Louisiana Tech.
“I had a chance to watch and research Mike a lot and I think what he’s doing here, it’s just the beginning,” Pinkins said. “Elite Eight two years ago. Unfortunately they had to run up against the (Texas Tech) Red Raiders, this past year. Believe in everything he’s doing, he’s a young, talented coach and our potential is through the roof here at Florida.”
Said White: “Al will bring us different experiences, different philosophies, ways of doing things, ways of seeing things, and of course, we’re giving him a lot of ownership over our frontcourt guys.”
The irony in coming to Florida from Texas Tech, the team that knocked the Gators out of the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament this past season, isn’t lost on Pinkins. But Pinkins is hopeful some of the experiences in working with Chris Beard for two seasons at Texas Tech have helped him continue to grow as a coach.
“It’s funny in a way,” Pinkins said. “Getting a chance to visit with Mike about what we’ve done at Texas Tech and I really like the things he’s doing here. Hopefully we can come together and kind of mix and match and do some new things that will help the team.”