Florida men’s basketball coach Mike White was his usual self at Tuesday’s preseason media day: blunt and careful in his assessments, if not apathetic at times.
But don’t mistake the fifth-year UF head coach’s demeanor for one of resignation; if anything, White is trying to temper lofty expectations while remaining forthright.
Suffice to say, the Gators head into the 2019-20 season with a “Final Four” mentality, yet aware that said mindset hinges on the nine new players realizing their potential from the jump.
“We haven’t even been through a practice yet. We have no idea who’s going to start, who’s going to score for us, who’s going to be our best defensive player. All the ingredients that exist in really good teams remain to be seen with this team,” White said. “Toughness, maturity, experience, who’s going to lead us, consistency, work ethic. I could go on and on and on. Do I like our roster? Yeah.”
In addition to graduate transfer Kerry Blackshear, the Gators welcome six freshmen to Gainesville, with all poised for various roles in their inaugural season of collegiate basketball. Furthermore, Florida added sit-out transfers Tyree Appleby and Anthony Duruji, bringing the number of new faces to nine.
Friday’s practice will be a unique experience for White, too.
“Our last year at Louisiana Tech, going into that year we had nine new players. So from that regard, we’ve been through it once — not ten times but once,” White said. “I guess trying to mesh and getting these guys to coexist while being really productive together at this level, this will be the first time going through it.”
Offseason heals all wounds
After playing significant roles last season, the offseason couldn’t have come at a better time for Florida’s freshmen trio.
Noah Locke and Keyontae Johnson finished the season hobbling, with the former dealing with a nagging hip injury that required offseason surgery, while the latter recovered from a left knee injury.
And sophomore point guard Andrew Nembhard suffered a scare in late August when he appeared to injure his knee while participating with Team Canada; in a bit of good luck on the injury front, Nembhard avoided a significant injury after being unable to leave the court on his own volition.
Any fear of those ailments hindering either player were put to rest, as the trio each assuaged any fears over their long-term viability.
“I’ve been trying to rest on that, but I’m feeling good. It’s just certain stuff I do, there’s a little bit of an ache, but it’s nothing that’s going to hold me back this season,” said Johnson, adding he found ways to continue developing while resting. “I was just doing rehab every day, even after practice and working out. And just resting on it, not doing too much stuff. I would limit my dunks in drills, so instead I was just working on jump-shots and stuff.”
Potential rotations promising
And any concern of the sophomores playing heavy minutes once again was seemingly put to rest by White. Although he acknowledges the current Gators have yet to hold a formal practice, the make-up of the roster seemingly enables a variety of rotations, which could pay dividends when it comes to balancing the grind of the regular season.
If anything, White and the Gators could be in for a contrasting conundrum.
Considering the amount of highly recruited prospects in Gainesville, along with the addition of Blackshear, the possibility exists — if not remains likely — that UF could have a player or two standing as the odd man out.
A potential issue, yes — yet one only a bevy of Division I teams face as practice commences.
“Down the road potentially (the rotation could be an issue). Friday will be the first opening practice where we’ve got 13 healthy bodies, and we’ve got 14 with (walk-on) Alex Klatsky. So I’m not going to go there yet. You just never know what’ll happen,” White said. “I appreciate being healthy. We’re very fortunate to be where we are. Hopefully we can get through today without anything happening and we can get into Friday, again, healthy and hungry and get after it. And then we’ll reevaluate every day, every week, going into the season. If we’ve got 14 healthy bodies early in November, we’ll have to make some decisions, of course, but that’s a good problem to have.”
Head coaches are more inclined to comment on and analyze the growth and development of the roster rather than shining a light on themselves, yet White, who has acquired a reputation for his reflective and thoughtful responses, has spoken frequently of the man behind the show.
During last season’s turbulent regular season, White admitted to re-evaluating UF’s offense repeatedly, and at times he showed his agitation at the team’s grasp of its foundation. While much of the attention will certainly, and rightfully, be on UF’s roster, White took time to reflect on his offseason growth as a head coach.
“Well, I think as a staff we all grow every day. If we’re not, there’s something wrong, we’re going the other way. So probably looking at offense from last year, the biggest takeaway is that you can be creative and find different ways. Even at the end of the year, it wasn’t very pretty, but we found a way to manufacture some points. I think every year you’ve got to go into it and say, boy, I’d really like to play this way, but you’ve got to figure out how you should play with that roster or those seven or eight guys or those 10 or 11 guys,” White said. “I do think we’re more talented on paper this year. I’m optimistic that we can be better offensively, but we’ve got to figure it out.
“I know we’re more versatile offensively, which sometimes can be – I think a lot of times can be a positive, but it can be a negative, too, if we’ve thrown too much at the wall. We’ve got to figure out what we’re good at quickly, what our strengths are, who we want to play through. Are we all accepting of playing that way? Can we all buy into doing that? And then hopefully find some offensive chemistry over the next couple months.”