Gators begin basketball practice amid high expectations

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Florida men's basketball coach Mike White speaks to reporters during the team's media day. (Brad McClenny//The Gainesville Sun)

There was no soft-selling, no dampening of expectations Tuesday at the Florida basketball facility. There was the occasional of the work to do and the long road ahead.

But the loudest sound on Florida Basketball Media Day was the buzz surrounding the program. The expectations are at a new level for Mike White and he is embracing them.

“I don’t blame whoever it is out there saying we’re pretty good,” said the Florida coach. “We’ve got a pretty good roster.”

Heck, White is just happy to have a full roster entering his fifth season, one that won’t need the managers to have a full practice. 

At the same time, this Florida basketball team hasn’t had a full practice yet (it happens Friday) and is trying to inject nine new players into a roster with a sophomore class that has already claimed ownership of the team.

Oh, again, the Gators haven’t had a full practice yet.

“I was talking to Noah (Locke) today and he said, ‘Some of the freshmen don’t have any idea what they are about to go through,’ ” White said. “Friday is going to be tough for them. It’s going to be a rude awakening.”

 Still, everything that White has seen in the permissible workouts from this thick roster have been encouraging. Just recently, assistant coach Darris Nichols told his boss, “We haven’t had to coach effort yet.”

Enthusiasm can be infectious, especially with a team as deep and talented as Florida. The lone senior is a stud big man, the three sophomores are go-to scorers and the freshmen combined to give Florida one of the best incoming classes in the country.

What’s not to like?

“We’ve got a lot more athletes this year,” Locke said. “Guys are jumping out of the gym. It’s hard to get to the rim.”

It will be a young team with a brutal schedule in a blossoming conference. It’s one thing to make shots in the facility, another thing to make them in Lexington or Knoxville.

But this is what I heard Tuesday:

The guys who are returning to this team don’t want to go through last year’s tumult again, when a team searching for leadership was up and down like a stunt plane.

“Us going through that last year made us so much more mature,” said point guard Andrew Nembhard. “It’s all in front of us. 

“We’ve pulled the younger guys up and they’ve pulled us up. The coaches didn’t have to do it.”

That’s Beatles-level music to White’s ears.

So is this — he thinks he has more leaders than he knows what to do with. 

“We have more potential leaders on this team than any team I’ve coached,” White said. “If we have 14 guys who want the Gators to win, we have a chance.”

Of course, we all know how fragile the NCAA Tournament can be and how dynamics can change drastically on any team full of 18-to 22-year-old high school stars. 

But it is pretty obvious White can’t wait to coach this team. The games will come. The next few weeks will be about “figuring out what we do well.”

It beats the alternative of trying to figure out what you can get away with to hang around some games.

“I don’t think the guys on this team can fathom just how good we can be,” said senior transfer Kerry Blackshear Jr. 

We all know that expectations can be a burden and they are real and they are spectacular for this edition of the mighty Gators.

“It’s a waste of time to talk about it a lot,” White said, “but it is sitting there.”

Isn’t it always, to a degree?

The difference is what White has in his arsenal to deal with them.

A team that can go small (and will) and go big (a novel idea). A team that can bomb 3s and rattle rims.

But, hey, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.

At least wait until Friday.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

 

4 COMMENTS

  1. I am excited about this. For some reason, got me looking around at the guys who left. Oh, I know, I was checking out the roster.

    Keith Stone (UM) – Grad transfer. UF might have to play him in Charleston. Keith is the one guy I hated to see go.
    Mike Okauru (UNC-W) – Granted immediate eligibility. He is back in his home state. Hopefully he will get plenty of family support. Really wish him the best.
    Isaiah Stokes (Memphis) – Not sure if he will play but I discovered that Mike Miller is now an assistant coach for Memphis. Who’d thunk it.

    Go Gators! Gonna be a good year for BB.

  2. Pat, thanks for the basketball coverage. Kevin Brockway is missed, but I know you do the best you can with having to cover football, too. Football is clearly king, as most of the posters on here are primarily, if not only, concerned with the Gators’ pigskin prowess. There are a few here who follow basketball closely, and I’m sure they appreciate the coverage as well.

    The interesting thing is that CMW will have multiple weapons and the ability to go big, small, or in between and inside or outside, as the article states. With so much talent on the roster, his biggest job will likely be blending these individual players into a selfless team with good chemistry. Go Gators!

  3. Reading on Floridagators last night, they went over the roster and had highlight reels of the 2 new 5* McDonald’s All Americans, Lewis and Mann; they definitely are Phenoms! The moves these guys have, wow, Blind passes, forward dunks, backward dunks, sidearm dunks, under and over dunks, switch hand dunks, shots from downtown. Add the 5* nembhard and the experienced blackshear. we havent had this much talent, especially shooting talent since the 04’s. White got these 2 because he’s been recruiting them since 9th grade and was their 1st offer. A sure example of how you have to build a relationship and spot real talent early(which apparently was easy to do even when in 9th grade(they came from different schools). I just hope he still teaches them defense even though they now have offense. Even in B-ball, defense wins championships. Thats always the hardest part to get them to buy into. In highschool most of them have survived and thrived on offense. But now they are at a different level of competition, defense is essential and so many coaches just dont stress it in college. Thats when you see both teams scoring 75 or more! That has always been the Gators calling card and keeps us in games when the shots go cold. Yea, im excited about this season!