The 37 days of preseason camp have come and gone, although the Florida men’s basketball team will get a final test drive tonight before opening the 2018-19 season.
Florida will host Florida Southern at 7 p.m. in Exactech Arena at the O’Connell Center in what will serve as an exhibition game for the two programs.
Throughout preseason camp, UF coach Mike White has indicated the direction in which the team needs to continue progressing as the Gators look to replace veteran leadership in the backcourt while developing an inexperienced frontcourt. Unfortunately for Florida, the early non-conference schedule offers the underclassmen-laden group no favors — aside from the exhibition.
When the Gators hit the floor, White said there are numerous variables that will stick out in a live-game scenario; often these factors are ones the staff attempts to address prior to competition, yet they’re factors to be witnessed rather than simulated.
“How we handle minutes divvy and starting lineup announced. Shot selection, how we handled all the exterior stuff. What guys are eating, what they’re listening to,” White, when asked what aspects he’ll focus on, said. “People in the stands for the first time, especially when you’re going to play eight young guys, eight underclassmen. Those factors I think are very important.”
The point White makes about having fans in attendance is one in particular he’s fixated on. The team has experienced quieter practices in a sense as senior Kevarrius Hayes moves into the leadership role vacated by Chris Chiozza, resulting in a different dynamic. Hayes isn’t a quiet leader, but the situation is one where White is intrigued to see how the team reacts when the crowd noise factors against the Gators. The exhibition should ease the transition for the fresh faces, but the first taste of animosity from a crowd won’t come until UF opens the season at Florida State on Nov. 6 at 9 p.m.
“I think (having an exhibition first) is really important, of course. We’ll be at a really tough environment, against a really good team coming off a great year in Tallahassee. And just to have one game, of course we had the secret scrimmage that we can’t talk about, but one game, it’s different than the scrimmage, because there’s people in the stands,” White said.” It’s very, very important, especially for your young guys.”
The impact of the freshmen remains to be seen, although internal expectations are high — especially when it comes to point guard Andrew Nembhard. While he could certainly become the next one-and-done at Florida a la Bradley Beal, Nembhard’s impact in the early going is up in the air despite enormous potential.
But in White’s eyes, this is Hayes’ time to shine. The forward with a high-motor has put in the work in the offseason to become a more vocal leader for a program that could struggle at times without a seasoned veteran in the backcourt. Hayes has led by example as UF has placed a stronger emphasis on improving defensively.
White didn’t mince words when elaborating on Hayes’ role — they’ll need him to continue being “the guy” moving forward, regardless of his role on the court.
“He’s the guy right now. I don’t know how many minutes he plays, I don’t know how many points he averages, but he is the guy that has become very vocal, very demanding. And so, I haven’t needed to interject quite as much,” White said. “I’m very pleased with his leadership characteristics so far. Whether he gets 18 points against Florida Southern or plays one minute, we need that to continue from Kevarrius.”
What: Exhibition basketball game
Who: Florida Southern vs. Florida
When: 7 p.m.
Where: O’Connell Center