Before practices even began, Florida coach Mike White thought his team could take a step back defensively compared to last season.
White said those defensive flaws were on display during a closed scrimmage Sunday against Florida Gulf Coast University.
“There are certain areas as a staff you’re pleased with and some you’re a little alarmed about,” White said. “I’ll be open about it: transition defense, ball-screen defense, even half-court defense, defensive rebounding, we’ve got a lot of improvement that needs to take place in those areas.”
As a result, White is looking for defensive improvement from the Gators on Thursday night in their charity exhibition game at Jacksonville University’s Swisher Gym (7 p.m., tip).
“Being a good defensive team is just wanting to do it,” Florida senior point guard Chris Chiozza said. “So I think we have to get this team to want to defend how we did last year. We’re just as athletic as we were last year.”
Chiozza said the breakdowns have been more mental than physical and have come when players are fatigued.
“When we’re tired and we have fatigue, you’re just mentally not there,” Chiozza said. “That’s what goes first when you’re tired. You don’t think as fast and everything. So, we just got to keep the guys thinking. When they get tired, just being able to have that mental toughness to get through it and get to the right spots and just keep communicating when we are tired.”
Johnson still out, Gak progressing
White said freshman forward Chase Johnson remains in concussion protocol. Johnson did not practice Wednesday, but could return “any day now,” White said.
Meanwhile, sophomore center Gorjok Gak (knee) played limited minutes during the FGCU scrimmage and played well.
“He’s better and showing signs of a pretty good player,” White said. “A guy who’s a little older, stronger and more confident version of what he was late last year. Just got to get him back to 100 percent.”
Rankings don’t matter
White is trying to hammer the point to his players that preseason rankings don’t matter. Florida was ranked No. 8 in the preseason AP poll on Wednesday and No. 7 in the USA Today coaches poll.
White said he doesn’t view the Gators as a Top-10 caliber team yet.
“I’m not watching everyone else’s practices,” White said. “I just know that if you compare our team right now to our team last February, it’s not even close. That team would’ve beaten this team by 30 right now. That said, last year’s team this time of year wasn’t very good either. It’s just so early in the season and there’s so much to learn and get better.”
Looking for leaders
White said he’s looking for more leaders to emerge during the course of the season.
“We certainly need more of it, and I don’t think you can have enough of it,” White said. “I’d like to have 10 leaders. We don’t have that, not even close. Not that we had it last year, but we were closer.”
White said Chiozza is a “terrific leader by example.”
“Kevarrius Hayes, he’s been vocal,” White said. “Egor (Koulechov), I think he’s starting to pick his spots a little bit as he’s getting more comfortable. We’ve gotta get more from all three of them, and we’ve gotta find a couple more as well that’ll step up in those areas to help coach each other.”