The Florida men’s basketball team hit the court for the first time Tuesday, with the Gators emerging with a 89-71 win over Lynn University in an exhibition contest.
In the immediate aftermath, fifth-year UF coach Mike White came away more impressed with UF’s acumen on the offense than the team’s defense.
Prior to opening practice Thursday, White’s beliefs hadn’t changed much — although he acknowledged the Florida coaching staff must be patient with a roster comprised of nine underclassmen.
“It’s so early. You’ve got to check yourself as a staff this early on, especially with how many young guys we’re playing, and just remind yourself that it’s a long process,” White said. “Some of the controllables you wish you could have controlled better.”
Rebounding an early focus
White hasn’t shied away from the notion that Florida will play plenty of small ball this season. With two of the team’s contributors in the frontcourt currently sidelined with injuries, the Gators find themselves with an abundance of guards and wings, yet lacking significant size in the post outside of graduate transfer Kerry Blackshear. There are numerous possible consequences of running such a line-up, which White acknowledged was clear after Lynn hauled in 15 offensive rebounds en route to 22 second-chance points.
“I don’t think we rebound the ball that well, either offensively or defensively. That’s definitely a concern of this staff leading into Game 1,” White said. “Some of it’s as guys get in more and more game shape, hopefully we can become a better rebounding team. But it was early for Lynn as well; they seemed to beat us to too many basketballs.”
Blackshear’s word of advice
Take it from Kerry Blackshear Jr, who hauled in 616 rebounds while with the Hokies: height goes a long way, but rebounding often comes down to effort.
“I think it’s just always making it a fight. We’re going to be undersized against a lot of teams, so we’ve got to always be ready to be accountable, box out our man, but also help out our teammates when we have the opportunity,” he said. “And then we always have to have five guys fight for a rebound on the defensive end. And then, on the offensive end, me, Keyontae (Johnson) and the other guys have got to always be accountable and always put pressure on the rim and attack the rim for offensive rebounds.”
Payne, Mann impress
Gainesville native Tre Mann’s first bit of collegiate action went about as expected: the skilled ball-handler turned in 13 points on 4-for-8 shooting to go along with a steal and a pair of assists, resulting in a plus/minus of 21 for the freshman guard.
Considering he was a highly touted recruit that’s now being pegged as a possible one-and-done, Mann’s offensive repertoire was no secret.
Freshman power forward Omar Payne, however, may be more polished than many expected, if Tuesday’s showing was any indication of his potential as more than just a glass cleaner and high-intensity defender for the Gators. Payne connected on all four of his shot attempts, snagged four offensive rebounds and recorded three blocks in his 19 minutes of action.
“Just his feel for the game is getting better each and every day. Getting used to the college game as opposed to playing in high school, it’s a lot different,” Blackshear said of Payne. “Feeling people out, understanding what spacing is like in college, understanding how to pick your spots, understanding that you’ve got to play with energy at all times. And I think he’s doing just as good as any freshman in the country at that.”
White, too, came away impressed with Tuesday’s showing from the Kissimmee native — although, having scouted Payne since he was a high school freshman, it was more in line with his internal expectations. However, White acknowledged that, like most freshmen, Payne may struggle with consistency. On the flip side, he may turn in performances more impressive once the games begin to count in Florida’s win-loss column.
“He’s about where we thought he’d be. Really talented; game’s slowing down for him a little bit offensively, which we were hopeful it would. He had a good game,” White said of Payne. “The thing with these freshmen, and I just think with all young guys: you just don’t know if he’ll have that same exact game against North Florida. Maybe he plays better. But I think that he’s, along with these other freshmen, they’re gonna show signs of who they could be and then over time hopefully become more and more consistent versions of those signs. And Omar, I would’ve anticipated him being a little bit ahead defensively, altering shots, rim-running and finishing at the rim when he first got here. But he’s shown also touch around the basket, feel around the basket, an understanding. His motor’s improved in a pretty quick period of time. He’s playing harder than he was a month ago, that’ll continue to improve. He’s got a chance to be a really good player.”