Cameron Newbauer walks across the practice court as the team continues shooting drills, observing the players and assistant coaches who will help carry out his vision. Florida’s season opener is merely 48 hours away, a day the first-year UF women’s basketball coach has spent the past seven months preparing for.
But with the season opener looming, Newbauer continues to relish the preparation aspect of the job. Over the past month of training camp, Newbauer has emphasized the need for continual improvement throughout the season, which tips off at 4 p.m. today against Georgia State in the Exactech Arena at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.
“Our team has been great, their effort and attitude. That’s the beauty of a five-month season,” Newbauer said. “It’s such a long journey and you have to have perspective of where you started and where you’re going each moment, and understand that in November you don’t want to be where you’re hoping to be in March.”
Newbauer, who arrived in Gainesville in March after four seasons at Belmont University, has brought a detail-oriented emphasis to the program in the wake of Amanda Butler’s decade-long tenure, which ended after the team struggled to a 15-16 record last season. The numerous new faces — the Gators return just four players from last season’s team, including two seniors — helped facilitate the transition, but it wasn’t simply an overnight process.
“It’s been hard, because one, building relationships with these players through coaching them. Often times when you recruit people, you get to know them for a year, a year and a half, even longer, so you know who they are on an even playing field,” Newbauer said. “You get to know them through coaching them, through practice. There’s some tension there sometimes, because they’re trying to prove to you they want to play, they’re great players, and I’m trying to prove I know what I’m doing and that I can coach them. It’s sometimes one of those things where sometimes you have to let down those walls and be vulnerable to each other and build the right relationships and have it based on the right things, and have it not all centered around basketball.”
It hasn’t been a seamless transition necessarily. The team took a hit last week when redshirt senior guard Simone Westbrook departed the program following a suspension that lasted throughout training camp, a decision Newbauer sees as necessary for the team’s continued progression. “She had been suspended since early October, so we’re used to playing in practice without her,” Newbauer said. “Just didn’t think it was in the program’s best interest to move forward with her. So we’ve adapted and grown in her absence.”
Yet the two seniors who signed for Butler — Dyandria Anderson and Haley Lorenzen — and graduate transfer Paulina Hersler have brought a level of stability and continuity to a group that is still feeling itself out and building relationships. For her part, Lorenzen said she didn’t expect to play her final collegiate season under a new coach, but the progress the team has made in a short span is evident.
“I think if we stick with Coach Cam’s details and everything he harps on us in practice, we’re going to go really far,” Lorenzen said. “And it starts with us. We’ve always just tried to lead by example, not only on the court but off the court as well.”