White, Gators head into week of season-opener with uncertainty

Graham Hall
UF basketball writer
Florida men's basketball coach Mike White enters his sixth season in Gainesville looking to improve on last season's 19-12 (11-7 SEC) record before the coronavirus pandemic halted postseason play.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The Florida men's basketball team has paused team activities for one week due to positive COVID-19 tests and contact tracing protocols, UF announced. The Gators will not play this week's scheduled games vs. UMass Lowell and Virginia.


Florida men’s basketball coach Mike White has developed a reputation, both on the recruiting trail and in interviews, for his transparency — meaning questions regarding the prospects for the 2020-21 season are at times difficult to answer considering the added uncertainty from COVID-19. 

Availability? May vary, for coaches and players alike. 

The offense? Well, it should run at a faster pace, but apprehension remains considering there have been stretches within the last several weeks where the team has had just five players available for practice.

All White and the program can do is focus on the present — continuing to prepare for the season-opening match-ups against UMass Lowell and No. 4-ranked Virginia at ‘Bubbleville’ at Mohegan Sun — while rolling with the circumstances. 

But it’s not as if those questions, and many others, aren’t pressing on White’s mind with the season imminent.

“There’s a lot of unknowns right now. It’s about practice today. Our guys are so eager to tip it up against someone else, I don’t think they’re probably as nervous as the staff and I are, in terms of how everything is going to look,” White said Friday. “It really starts before the tip against UMass Lowell. What’s the security line going to look like when we get to the airport, and where are we all sitting? How is the meal going to look when we get up there? Where are we all sitting? What seats? Where are they going to have us? And all the protocols up there. It’s just craziness.”

And those are best-case-scenario prospects, in a sense.

White knows at any time he could be unavailable either due to COVID-19 contact tracing or quarantining for an indeterminate amount of time during the 27-game regular season, as could Florida’s players or members of the coaching staff. 

It’s been hard to shake those thoughts in the eight months since the Gators abruptly left the court in Nashville just hours from tipping off in the SEC Tournament.

“Those thoughts creep in every day. They do. I wonder how many games I’ll miss this year. I wonder how many games we’ll have our five starters out there, 12 guys available, where you’re going to be missing assistants - what do you do there, what are the rules there? What are the NCAA waivers with moving a guy on staff up and moving him back down, adjusting roles,” White continued. “But you can spend all day talking about those things or you can just — again, I hate to keep bringing it up — control what you can control.”

One thing the Gators can control is the roster’s work ethic throughout unprecedented circumstances, which White said has remained at a high level with only a few instances of drop-off in preseason camp. 

It may be because the opportunities have never been more apparent for every man on the roster; the potential fickleness of availability may require prospective role players and reserves to play larger roles, possibly with little notice. 

It’s led to a slightly tighter leash early on in practice, and one that extends to the entire roster, from walk-on to former five-star prospect. To echo the unwelcome mantra of 2020: who knows?

“We’ve probably been a little bit quicker than in the past, in terms of while we’re (practicing), yanking a guy for a guy that maybe his teammates don’t perceive getting a lot of opportunity, but in a year like this you never know. We’ve made comments like that in practice, where I’ve found myself saying ‘Hey, a month from now, who knows?’ and we believe that this guy can do this, but this is how you’ve got to help us when you’re in there,” White said. “Probably more than any year I’ve coached, and this probably is throughout college basketball, we don’t have 15 healthy guys right now, but if we did, guy 15 has to be coached just as hard — and he always should be, of course, and we’re always preaching that — but he has to be just as familiar with the system, held just as a accountable, have just as good an understanding of what he’s doing, because player No. 15 a month from now could be starting. The familiarity with what we are doing has to be on point because you just don’t know what’s going to happen.”