Florida women’s basketball coach Cameron Newbauer visited Belarus this summer, but it wasn’t for sightseeing purposes.
“You get to go to a lot of really cool places when you’re recruiting,” Newbauer said, “but you don’t get to take in the sights.”
Newbauer’s life in the seven months following the conclusion of Florida’s 2017-18 campaign has revolved around continuing to overhaul a UF program that has struggled with consistency since the mid-1990s. Now in his second season at Florida by way of Belmont University, Newbauer began a tall task with last week’s first practice: replacing 69 percent of the team’s minutes from last season.
The Gators, who open the season Nov. 6 at 11 a.m. at home against Gardner-Webb, return just two starters from last season’s team — guard Funda Nakkasoglu and forward Delicia Washington — and seem poised to experience growing pains as the majority of the roster adjusts to the collegiate game. But sooner rather than later, Newbauer believes inexperience will transform into depth — an aspect of Florida’s roster that has sorely been missed over the past two decades.
“Our depth is immediately better right now, barring injuries. Knock on wood,” Newbauer said. “From that standpoint, that’s one thing we did recruiting-wise. We just went and got players that we felt would give us a broader skill-set, more minutes on the court and in practice.”
While it’s too early to peg any freshman as an instant-impact player, guard Ariel Johnson should give UF versatility at multiple spots on the court while giving the Gators another scoring option.
“Ari is just one of those consummate guards who can play the one, two or the three,” Newbauer said. “Even-keeled, tough-nosed competitor. Hates to lose, wants perfection from herself.”
Johnson, who arrives as UF’s fourth player in program history from the state of California, said she’s eager yet anxious to begin her collegiate career in Gainesville, but any trepidation has been alleviated by the team’s returning players.
“Everyone’s going to make mistakes, I can’t expect to be perfect all the time. Especially coming into a new experience, it’s not going to be perfect,” Johnson said. “So my teammates have made sure I have my head up, and always encouraging me.”
Newbauer has made clear he envisions the program as one that’s abundant with players who, like Johnson, can rotate around the court and create matchup nightmares with the opposition.
Ultimately, however, Florida’s season will be defined by the early stretch prior to SEC play, and that will require a leadership presence. Gone are upperclassmen Dyandria Anderson, Paulina Hersler and Haley Lorenzen, and the Gators understand Nakkasoglu and Washington will be expected to fill a glaring void in the locker room.
It’s one of many challenges Newbauer will experience before UF tips off in five weeks, but it’s also one he’s eager to overcome.
“Haley, Paulina and Dyandria were all fabulous leaders who were versed on the court as well as off the court. High character, tremendous work ethic. So now, it’s tough because the models are gone. But we’re grateful that we had those models for a year last year to show the way,” Newbauer said. “When you talk about getting better in the offseason, that’s where we now have got to take time devoting how do we reach them, communicating with them, spending time with them, mentoring them, showing them the way of how to lead. Leadership is something everyone says is this innate ability. Well, I don’t completely agree, because you can become a great leader by watching, learning, molding yourself. As coaches, we have to understand what that path looks like.”