UF’s White travels nation recruiting for talent

Mike White
It's been a busy month on the recruiting trail for Florida basketball coach Mike White. [Brad McClenny/Staff Photographer/file]

LAKE BUENA VISTA — Florida coach Mike White took an extra sip out of his Starbucks cup. With the Division I July basketball recruiting evaluation period nearing its close, caffeine is fuel for college basketball coaches throughout the country.

White wrapped up a stretch of 15 days on the road in a 19-day period on Saturday at the AAU Super Showcase at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex. He arrived on a redeye flight from Las Vegas, where the night before he watched a number of top national prospects in the 2018 and 2019 classes at the Vegas Fab 48 Tournament.

“I’m guessing, 10 or 11 cities, 100 gyms,” White said of the recruiting road stretch. “It’s the most physically taxing month for college basketball coaches. It’s not the most healthy month in terms of how you eat, how little you sleep. At the same time it’s an exciting month and the opportunity to see a lot of kids and make your evaluations.”

The grind has its rewards, of course. In 2017, White and his staff nabbed an incoming freshman class that ranked as high as ninth in country according to ESPN.com’s national team rankings. There is hope that the 2018 class can even be better, with the Gators on the rise after reaching the Elite Eight this past season for the ninth time in school history.

But the grind has its sacrifices, as well. For the 40-year-old White, it means time away from his wife, Kira, and his five young children.

“We try to do Facetime, not nearly enough,” White said. “My oldest daughter, Rylee, likes to get pictures sent to her, of different cities. I pulled up to Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas yesterday and as you are walking into the gym you have mountains right there, so she liked that picture, of course.

“But it’s hard, especially when you are on the west coast, with the communication because you’ll walk out of your last gym and it might be 11 p.m. and it’s 2 a.m. (Gainesville) and my wife and kids have been sleeping for a few hours already.”

Recruiting is a year-around endeavor, but in July, it’s about being seen. There is no contact, no conversations allowed between players and coaches at events. Coaches can’t talk about players they are targeting to the media. But players know which coaches are watching them, and how frequently they are watching. On this day, White wore a blue shirt with a large Gator logo.

White has developed contacts with travel league coaches throughout the country, beginning as an assistant coach at Ole Miss and continuing as a head coach at Louisiana Tech before being hired at UF in May 2015. But White and his staff still had to establish new relationships to recruit to Florida. His first recruiting job was to convince an incoming freshman class brought in by former Florida coach Billy Donovan to stay. He kept three of those four freshmen. That trio (junior guard KeVaughn Allen, junior center Kevarrius Hayes and redshirt sophomore forward Keith Stone) will form an experienced nucleus heading into the 2017-18 season.

From there, White has steadily built more in-state and national contacts.

“We’re very comfortable with the recruiting base and our contacts here and feel confident in our relationships,” White said. “At the end of the day a lot of factors go into these kids’ decisions. But in terms of the reception, the University of Florida is received very well in this state and really throughout most of the country.”

White’s breakthrough second season at UF helped as well. In March, White earned SEC Coach of the Year honors after guiding the Gators to a 14-4 conference record, a five-win improvement in league games compared to the year before. Overall, the Gators finished 27-9 before falling to Sindarius Thornwell-led South Carolina in the Elite Eight in New York City.

UF’s Sweet 16 overtime win against Wisconsin at Madison Square Garden was replayed on the SEC Network last Thursday, which allowed fans to relive and recruits to see Chris Chiozza’s running, game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer.

“The run that we made just shows the program is very healthy, what our athletic department is capable of really in any sport,” White said. “We’ve got a good team. We’ve got a really healthy culture in our basketball program, and again, we’ve been really well received and we feel like we have solid momentum.”

The July period is about evaluation as well, as coaches watch up to 10-12 hours worth of games per day at different events. For White, those evaluations don’t always rely on stars.

“We want kids who are good fits, academically, athletically and socially,” White said. “We want kids who, whether they score 20 points or four points, they’re enhancing the culture of our program regardless.”

Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or kevin.brockway@gvillesun.com. Also check out Brockway’s blog at Gatorsports.com.