The Back Nine: Henderson’s big day

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Florida defensive back CJ Henderson knocks a pass away from LSU wide receiver Justin Jefferson during last year's game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. [Brad McClenny/ The Gainesville Sun]
The Back Nine comes at you after watching a lot of ball — baseball, softball and basketball. And a bunch of guys running in shorts.
10. One of the players who did himself a lot of good at the NFL Combine was Florida defensive back CJ Henderson, who ran 4.39 in the 40 and excelled at everything he did. So you can’t help but think this sends a signal to next year’s juniors that you are better off skipping your bowl game. But every case is different. Last year, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson improved his status with a great Peach Bowl. This year Jabari Zuniga showed he was healthy by playing in the Orange Bowl and had a great Combine as well. It just depends on the situation for each individual. It’s kind of like players declaring early for the draft. You have to live your own life and do what you feel is best for you. OK, that’s enough preaching. Just don’t get angry when young men make decisions they feel are the right ones for them.
11. Besides, you all have enough anger directed at basketball to consume a small city. At least according to my emails and Tweets. Saturday was another one of those uneven performances with the Gators getting destroyed early and then rallying to have a chance. I really don’t know what to say. It’s the same story over and over. Gator fans fall in love with their team only to be disappointed. And, of course, it’s always the coach’s fault. Florida is probably going to make the tournament and I think a win at Georgia on Wednesday night clinches it. But who knows how this team will play in that game? Here’s one theory — Mike White has never coached a team like this with so many expectations and so many elite players with so much high maintenance. And it has been a struggle. There are some of you out there who won’t like this, but I believe it is something he will grow into. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again — wait until the season is completely over before you judge this team.
12. There was a lot of Twitter talk about how Tennessee had the coaching edge in the game. I guess that’s why Tennessee’s John Fulkerson’s desperation 3 went in and Tre Mann’s open 3 rimmed out. By the way, Rick Barnes came to Tennessee at the same time White went to Florida. White has more wins, 13 more SEC wins and more NCAA Tournament wins during that time. I’m just pointing that out. I’m not trying to defend White here as much as to simply point out some facts. Florida never plays well at Tennessee. On the other hand, there is no explaining how a team with this much talent (although I believe that talent is overrated) can be down by 17 points at different times of six SEC games this season. That’s embarrassing.
13. So here is where Florida sits with two regular-season games left and the SEC Tournament. Florida (10-6) is basically in a battle with Mississippi State (10-6) and South Carolina (9-7) for the fourth bye at the SEC Tournament, which means you don’t play until Friday. The latter two teams play tonight so one of them will win (it’s in the rules). MSU closes with Ole Miss and South Carolina with Vandy. It’s important to get the bye as far as trying to win the tournament goes, but where you finish in the SEC standings is irrelevant to the committee. Got all that? Despite the loss at Tennessee, the Gators dropped only one spot in the NET Rankings to 33. Let me repeat, the Georgia game is crucial. Florida is still projected to be a nine seed by ESPN’s Joe Lunardi. Is it me or does this seem like a long basketball season?
14. Out of curiosity, I checked the Quad One and Quad Two records of every Power Five team and the worst is Nebraska at 2-16. The Cornhuskers have also not had a winning football season in the last three years. So, you see? Things could be worse.
15. It certainly was a mixed bag for Gator fans this weekend. On the one hand, gymnastics clinched its first unbeaten season. On the other hand, the softball team blew a pair of four-run leads to lose the series at home to Louisiana. Coach Tim Walton was more upbeat than I expected him to be on Sunday and I think that was because he knows if this team can pitch at all it can still be really good. His goal is to only give up two runs a game (Florida gave up 14 in its last two) and that’s not changing. Here’s the thing — Florida rode Kelly Barnhill last year instead of getting more experience for the young pitchers. But when you are trying to win championships, you want your best in the circle.
16. Before the season, I thought Jud Fabian was going to have a great one. So when he came off the field Saturday night with a towel draped over his right hand, I thought the worse. And I’m sure a lot of you did. “It looked nasty,” said Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan. “I was surprised he played Sunday. But he’s a tough nut.” The next day, he hits a tape-measure home run. The kid is really something special and I can call him a kid because he should be a freshman in college, instead starting at UF a year early. So far this year, he is hitting .320 and leads the team with five homers and 13 RBI. And he is certainly in the discussion of best center fielders in Florida history. The 11-0 Gators have to understand one thing — every time you take the field as the No. 1 team, the other team is going to play like it’s Omaha.
17. The Tweet of the Week goes to Stats by STATS, which uncovered this gem this week — “With a 71-60 loss to Illinois State today, Evansville finishes 0-18 in Missouri Valley play. On November 12, the Purple Aces beat No. 1 Kentucky, 67-64. They are the first team in NCAA history to beat the AP No. 1 team and lose all of their conference games in a single season.” It didn’t help that the coach got fired in the middle of the season.
18. Went to see my doctor Monday for a knee check-up. All is good. Even played golf twice last week. Thanks to The Gloria golf tournament for having us out on a beautiful day at the UF golf course. The course is in PGA Tour shape and I’m not exaggerating. Here’s your playlist (maybe music would have helped my swing.)
• “Garden Song” by Phoebe Bridgers.
• “Losing Battles” by Josh Ritter.
• “Allen With a Sleep Mask On” by the Ratboys.
• “90 Proof” by Matt Lovell.
• And for an old one, “Thirteen Women,” a cover of the old Bill Haley and the Comets song by The Renegades.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

13 COMMENTS

  1. It’s the same way it was in the season before the Gators won their first national championship. The failure of the players to carry out the instructions they have been given from game to game makes it look like the coach doesn’t know what he is doing. Despite the fact that I don’t agree with Coach White’s offensive system, you can’t blame him when the players stand around looking at each other rather than moving without the ball. In last week’s game against LSU, they moved without the ball constantly and found themselves open for easier baskets or in some cases in a prime position to drive and at least get fouled so they could shoot foul shots. When four guys stand around watching Nembhard trying to find an open man and he has to come to one of them rather than passing the ball to someone open, you can’t expect anyone to get even a relatively open shot. What should a coach do when his players, despite his running drills over and over again don’t get it? As Dooley says, we really won’t know how good or bad Coach White is until he has a team next year that has decent experience.

  2. The only things absolutely certain are taxes, death, and then the Judgement Seat
    (see 2 Corinthians 5:10). Making the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tourney is not one ’em!
    Therefore, this Florida team better create their own ”edge,” and generate their own ”want to” on the road in Athens against the ugly Dawgs Wednesday night. Otherwise, it could all come down to beating U.K. (who is certainly going to the NCAA Tourney), or winning multiple games in SEC Tourney. Which is way too close for comfort, in my opinion. Go Gators!

  3. I hate how the fans get bashed over questioning Mike White. I do not think he should be fired this season, but the criticism of his program is fair. It is far more than this team and their youth or inability to follow instruction.

    In 4 of 5 seasons, Mike White’s teams have lost 11+ games.
    The loss totals are as follows:
    Year 1: 15
    Year 2: 9
    Year 3: 13
    Year 4: 16
    Year 5: 11 (so far)

    So this team will probably not win the SEC Tournament or the NCAA Tournament, so they are staring at a minimum of 13 losses. They will make the tournament and get a #8 or #9 seed. If you want a championship program, you can’t lose this many games. Every once in a while, a low seed can make a run but having to beat one of the top 4 teams in the country in the 2nd round is a tall task. 11+ losses also means you will never be competing for a conference championship.

    It is fair to question where this program is heading. Mike White has gotten more traction out of Billy Donovan’s final losing season (after going to 3 consecutive elite 8s), than he should be allowed. Donovan left him with plenty of talent and a pretty nice recruiting class lined up. If that was not the case, the Elite 8 run in year 2 would have been impossible.

    This year’s current roster is a mess. One senior (who is in his first year) and one junior (Bassett) will not cut it from a leadership standpoint. Comparatively Donovan’s Year 5 leadership consisted of 2 SRs (Major Parker and Brent Wright) and 2 JRs (Haslem and Dupay) that had significant experience and production. White’s roster imbalance is due to his poor recruiting in his 2nd and 3rd classes and his inability to keep players in the program.

    Finally, you cannot compare the slump to Billy Donovan’s before winning the national championship. Donovan’s loss totals were 7,9,8,11 & 8. Over that 5 year span, UF won an East Division title, an SEC regular season championship and a SEC Tournament Championship. Only once did they ever finish lower than 2nd in the SEC and never fought for a first round bye in the SEC Tournament. Even in the year they lost 11 games, they were SEC Tournament Runner ups. Their seeds for the NCAA tournament were #3,#5,#2,#5,#4. I would say that these teams’ results were because of the players and not the coaching. Meanwhile people were dragging Donovan over the coals for the performance.

    I think White deserves one more season. Next year he should have a balanced roster, youth will not be an excuse and hopefully he will finally get that toughness that he complains about each season. If he gets that and the players he recruits don’t suddenly lose their ability to shoot, set screens and move without the basketball, the program should turn around. That being said, the criticism of his program is completely fair and not an overreaction from fans.

    • Great analysis, Orlando. Nothing for me to add to that.

      Past performance suggests wins over UGA and UK to end the season are possible, but certainly will be difficult. To get 20 regular season wins would be great, and it would definitely improve seeding in the Dance.

      Go Gators!!!

  4. Making the only football comment thus far, I refer to #10.

    Yes, one should live one’s own life, but one should not make decisions based on what they “feel” is best for them but rather what they THINK is best for them. They should base their thinking upon applicable logic, while feelings are purely emotional states. Put differently, one is usually on a more solid foundation when forming their conclusions on the latter rather then the former. And therein lies the rub: We have succeeded in training an entire generation or two by now in trusting their emotions rather than their brain.

    Yes, I quibble. It’s what I do. But it’s apparent more than in sports, unfortunately.

    That said, I hope Henderson goes all the way no matter how he makes his calls. GO GATORS!

    🤓

    • Then again, you could make the case that since the world is going to end in 12 years due to climate change, these 18-21 year olds have to accelerate all their plans. That way, you don’t need to worry about an old fashioned concept such as honor. 😇

      • Dont get me started on this bogus “climate change” marxist plan to control everyone. Greenland which is under 100’s of feet of ice, during the Middle Ages was actually green, the Vikings lived there and grew grapes and called it Vineland. So prima facia evidence that the world was much warmer then and guess what? The seaports in Europe had the same sea levels as they have now!!!!! Remember that Middle Ages miner and his camp they found about a dozen years ago in Europe after the glaciers had receeded? More evidence that back then the world was much warmer and the glaciers werent there! All before the Industrial revolution so man had nothing to do about it!.. Now see, i told you not to get me started!!!!