Unfinished legacy, as Gators didn’t get a chance at redemption during postseason

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A high moment for the 2019-20 Florida men’s basketball team: Coach Mike White celebrates with players after the Gators defeated Xavier 70-65 in the finals of the Charleston Classic on Nov. 24 in Charleston, S.C. [Mic Smith/Associated Press]
Thursday should have been a day of celebration. Thursday and Friday. And Saturday and Sunday. The Madness. The Big Dance. And all of the other cliches.
Instead of actually being quarantined, scared and bored, we should have been faking an illness to stay home and order TruTV so we wouldn’t miss St. Mary’s vs. Rutgers from Omaha.
Instead of crossing the losing teams off our brackets and trying to decide whether to shred or burn those brackets, we are crossing off things we are no longer allowed to do and places we cannot go.
Still, you are allowed to wonder. Who would have won it all? Which teams would have made the Final Four? What color would Cinderella wear?
Maybe the one redeeming thing about all of this is that you can tell us exactly how it would have gone and there is no way to prove you wrong.
For example, you could take the position that Florida’s basketball team was getting better at the end of the season and you believed the Gators were going to make a deep and fun run.
Or that you can live with not having to watch the 2019-20 Gators play any more games.
All we know for sure is that coach Mike White’s fifth team didn’t get a chance to change its legacy. Instead, it is what 31 games showed us.
Maddening game come to mind. One of the most frustrating teams to play at Florida.
If Florida’s basketball team was a Seinfeld episode, it would be the “Good light, bad light” one. In the good light, a thing of beauty. In the bad light, you wanted to look away.
We have spent a lot of words — and by “we” I mean all of the hacks who wrote about this team from the young to the elderly (seriously, this crisis is the first time I have thought of myself as “elderly”) — trying to figure this team out.
In the end, you are what your record is. And that’s the legacy.
How many times this season did you hear this? “This team is hard to watch.”
And yet, there were times when it was a team that was a joy to watch. Moving the ball, forcing shot clock violations on defense, coming from so far behind you had almost given up.
But then there were the hero shots, the matador defensive possessions, the blown leads.
A team that couldn’t seem to stand prosperity was also a team that never gave up. It was a strange dichotomy in a strange season.
The preseason expectations did this team no favors and we were all guilty, from Jay Bilas to Joe Fan to yours truly. We were all wrong. We believed in the hype and took it personally when these Gators failed to live up to it.
I have no doubt this was a team that was high maintenance. So many potential stars, so many egos. After the win over LSU, Scottie Lewis told me that he had to learn how to listen to his coaches. When I brought that up to White in the postgame presser, he said, “We’ll see if he’s still listening at practice tomorrow.”
It was after that game that Kerry Blackshear Jr. stormed off the court and out the opposite exit the players use after slapping palms with the Rowdy Reptiles. He was frustrated because he had fouled out of the game.
Nobody had a more frustrating season than Blackshear. He constantly battled foul trouble and finished his career with an injury on senior day.
The book on Blackshear was that he didn’t have the same foul troubles at Virginia Tech, but in his junior season in the ACC he fouled out five times and had four fouls nine times. At Florida, in three fewer games, he fouled out four times, was ejected once and had eight games with four fouls.
Let me set the record straight. I’m not blaming the players. I’m not blaming the coaches. It’s not even that it didn’t work. Florida was in the NCAA Tournament. It just didn’t work the way we thought it would. The idea of this team being a nine seed when practice started last year didn’t seem a remote possibility.
Still, it didn’t go as far south as it did at some places (most notably North Carolina).
But the point of all of this is that this team never got the chance to fix its legacy, to make a run in the SEC Tournament and the NCAAs. Maybe we would have all been writing about them figuring it out finally.
Or maybe we’d have been writing about how they never did after a first-round loss.
We’ll never know.
All we have to go on are the 31 games these Gators did play.
So many great moments. The two great comebacks. Billy Donovan’s night. The Charleston Classic.
So many terrible moments, including the finale that wrapped it all up with an abysmal bow.
A lot of nights you couldn’t wait to watch the highlights. A lot of nights when you came home and erased the game from your DVR.
Good light.
Bad light.
Now, the light is extinguished on the season.
The legacy will be of a team that underachieved, a team that wasn’t mentally tough enough to be as great as everyone thought it should be. It was also a team of players who — for the most part — got better as the season went along.
Just not good enough.
Or maybe it was.
We’ll never know.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

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