Florida men’s basketball coach Mike White reiterated Monday his frustrations regarding the team’s current showing, although he’s not in the practice of blaming the players.
Instead, after a 1-2 showing in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament last week in Paradise Island, Bahamas, White will look to continue tinkering with the formula to success when the Gators take the court at 7 p.m. Tuesday against North Florida at Exactech Arena in the O’Connell Center.
“We should be better than we are. But I’m frustrated with myself, too,” White said. “We’ve got to be more disciplined, we’ve got to play harder, we’ve got to be tougher.”
The Gators relegated Jalen Hudson to the bench in favor of freshman Noah Locke following the team’s 65-60 loss to Oklahoma, and Locke responded with his first double-digit scoring performance in the team’s 72-49 win over Stanford the following night. But White said it wasn’t necessarily an indictment of Hudson’s performance; simply put, the entire team has been put on notice. When White and the Gators coaching staff meet prior to tip-off, the starters will be determined by hustle rather than seniority.
“We could change it every game. I don’t care,” a noticeably frustrated White said. “Minutes will be rewarded upon you doing your job for Florida to win, not for you to win. Not for you to score, not to see how many shots you can get up, but for us to be the best team we can be. I’ll play walk-ons. I don’t care.”
As for Hudson? White admitted the senior is “in a tough place” after a surprisingly shaky start to the season.
“This wasn’t what Jalen was expecting. It wasn’t what his teammates or I were expecting, either. He’s got to find a way to get himself going, and we’ve got to keep challenging him and communicating with him. It’s clear, it’s been laid out to him, the expectation, whether he was a senior or a freshman. But the fact that he is a senior there is an even higher level of expectation for him to play with a lot of intensity, to be an accountable defender and rebounder, and to lead by example,” White said. “I can’t put my finger on one thing, in terms of why he has struggled with a high level of intensity. And not just in games, but it’s been in practice.”
For now, Locke’s intensity has him in position to usurp a portion of Hudson’s minutes — although there are noticeable consequences that come with playing a freshman in a large role. After Florida struggled in a nationally televised tournament, White is optimistic a smaller stage will help get Florida back on course. But White isn’t mincing words: the first month of the season didn’t live up to internal expectations.
“I just think another factor with this team is when the lights are on and we’ve got people in the stands and you’re on TV, I think at times we’re having guys try and do things that they don’t normally do in practice. Focused on things that they’re normally not focused on,” White said. “We’re on ESPN and we’re playing a high-measure team, and now we’re focused on this, that and the other. That’s not what good teams do, and it’s a process with every team. I was hopeful that this team wouldn’t have to go through this process, we wouldn’t be having to send messages to guys. But that’s not where we’re at right now.”
Who: North Florida (2-4) vs. Florida (3-3)
When: 7 p.m.
Where: O’Connell Center
TV: SEC Network
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850
Keith Stone; F; 6-8; Jr.; 5.8 ppg; 4.7 rpg
Kevarrius Hayes; C; 6-9; Sr.; 6.8 ppg; 6.2 rpg
Andrew Nembhard; G; 6-5; Fr.; 8.0 ppg; 3.0 rpg
KeVaughn Allen; G; 6-2; Sr.; 8.0 ppg; 1.7 rpg
Noah Locke; G; 6-3; Fr.; 6.7 ppg; 1.2 rpg
Noah Horchler; F; 6-8; 210; Jr.; 14.4 ppg; 11.2 rpg
Wajid Aminu; F; 6-7; 190; Jr.; 8.7 ppg; 4.2 rpg
Garrett Sams; F; 6-7; 195; Jr.; 14.0 ppg; 4.7 rpg
JT Escobar; G; 6-2; 183; RJr.; 10.3 ppg; 2.0 rpg
Ivan Gandia-Rosa; G; 6-1; 190; Jr.; 9.2 ppg; 3.0 rpg
NOTES: Florida and North Florida square off for the fourth consecutive season. … The Gators have taken all seven meetings in the history of the series, including three under coach Mike White. … KeVaughn Allen has a pair of double-figure outings against UNF, including 18 points while shooting 4-for-7 from 3-point range to go with 5 rebounds in last year’s meeting. … The Gators rank 2nd in the SEC in scoring defense (61.8) and turnover margin (+5.0). … The Gators have scored 60 or fewer points in all three losses, and Deaundrae Ballard is the only Gator averaging double figures at 10.2 points per game off the bench. … After battling injury-induced frontcourt depth issues all of last season, Florida found itself in familiar territory again last week as Isaiah Stokes (knee) and Chase Johnson (concussion) both missed the Battle 4 Atlantis and Gorjok Gak (knee) has not yet returned from off-season knee surgery. … After having four assists and four turnovers in his debut, freshman point guard Andrew Nembhard posted 31 assists and five turnovers over the next five games. … Noah Locke moved into the starting lineup for a pair of games during the Battle 4 Atlantis. Nembhard and Locke became the first true freshmen duo to start for Florida since Kevarrius Hayes and KeVaughn Allen started five games together in 2015-16. … Ballard scored 61 points through the first six games of the season after totaling 60 over his previous 24 appearances during his freshman season.
— Graham Hall