Following delays and schedule changes, Gators men's basketball team finally set for Bubbleville season-opener
The moment the Florida men’s basketball team has waited nearly nine months for may have finally arrived — the season-opener in Bubbleville at Mohegan Sun, where UF is scheduled for a 2:30 p.m. tip-off Wednesday with Army followed by a 9:30 p.m. tip-off Thursday with Boston College.
Prior opportunities to commence the slightly abbreviated 2020-21 campaign were squandered due to COVID-19 issues initially in Florida’s program, followed by positive tests at UF’s next intended destination, the University of Oklahoma. The cancellation left Florida scrambling to add a pair of opponents back to the schedule, and a trip to the originally intended destination fit the bill, although that doesn’t mean the Gators are necessarily at full strength heading up to Uncasville, Connecticut.
UF will be without Osayi Osifo due to the junior college transfer’s ongoing quarantine, and the Gators also will be without unnamed assistant coaches.
It’s just another expected unexpectation in a year full of them, fifth-year UF coach Mike White acknowledged.
“It’s college basketball. This season, it’s what it is and so we’ve got to be adaptable. We talk to our guys about characteristics of leaders and we’re all trying to develop these guys into becoming better leaders and leaders for life through basketball, and adaptability is certainly a really important characteristic. So we’ve got to be ready to go today,” White said before Tuesday’s practice session. “Whoever is between the lines, whoever is available, and we’re excited about potentially — hold your breath — playing a game tomorrow.”
Less than three weeks ago, White admitted he’d prefer if the Gators could tip off the season imminently rather than during the week of Thanksgiving, and his desires appear justified by the latest shutdown and the subsequent cancellation of contests. Yet that doesn’t imply the Gators have been anywhere near full strength throughout November — quite the contrary actually.
White shouldn’t need to remind anyone, but it’s worth pointing out Influenza, injuries and various other ailments — not to mention life events, such as a birth in the family or the untimely death of a loved one — haven’t dissipated during the COVID-19 pandemic era; one could make the case players, devoid of the traditional countless hours of conditioning in the offseason and preseason camp, may even be more susceptible to wear-and-tear and fatigue this season.
“It’s certain days you’ll have a guy who’s leading, again, in this climate, who’s doing a good job, and then you may not see him again for 3 or 4 days. And it’s not just COVID, again, just as a reminder, and I just reminded myself as I’m sitting here talking out loud, you forget that we’ve had a bunch of guys missing for COVID. Then we had a funeral that needed to be attended by family member who passed, so we had a guy out, a very important guy who’s as good a leader as anybody we’ve had in the past couple months, and he’s been gone six days — five days, it’s hard to keep up here — and he’ll go today, because once guys come back in town they’ve got to quarantine and they’ve got to test negative the day before,” White said. “And if a guy comes in these days with the sniffles, we’ve got to hold him out, and we understand that as part of protocol. So, you know, last season, whenever since I've been around at least, you’ve got a little cough, if you can play you play. Well, now you can’t play. So, it’s been amazing how many practices collectively that we’ve missed. I don’t know how many that we’ve had the whole team out there. Not many, I could probably count them on one hand.”
And that’s without mentioning the cognitive toll the season may take on student-athletes. Division I basketball programs already typically have players meet with counselors regularly throughout the season to assess their ongoing mental well-being, and it’s no secret UF has seen its share of players battle through cognitive struggles throughout White’s tenure. As part of his ongoing growth process as a head coach, White acknowledged he’s leaned into more of a positive approach this season as he works to further understand his players.
“I think every year as you mature and you gain experience as a coach, you learn different ways to become more productive with the way you communicate with your guys, and I think we’ve all learned that calm can be better at times. Positivity can be better, two-way communication, collaborative communication can often be more productive, and I think that’s especially evident right now with everything going on, because this isn’t easy for our guys,” White said.
While UF’s in-game competitiveness remains to be seen, White and the Gators know they are farther behind the upcoming opposition, however, when it comes to assessing and correcting early difficulties.
Army sits at 3-0, while Boston College is 1-3 but narrowly fell Monday to undefeated St. John’s in a game that Florida’s coaching staff was tuned into.
So, he may not know how his team will look come Wednesday afternoon, but White’s had more than just a glimpse or two of the opponent — when it comes to season-openers, it’s just another peculiar aspect in a time where anomalies have become more of the status quo rather than outliers.
“Army’s really impressive with, believe it or not, their discipline, right. Their how hard they play, how well they execute, their connectivity. They seem to be in incredible shape, they change ends of the floor really well, they execute really well, and they’re very unique offensively. They’ll play a style that I’m not sure we’ll see again the rest of the year, so that presents major challenges of course,” White said. “And for that next game, just because it’s such a quick turn, and they were on TV last night, we peaked at it. I watched the game live last night and those guys are, again, a unique offense, playing a lot of five-out, playing a lot of four and five guards. And again up-tempo, so I’m concerned about our wind, really, in these next two games."
What: Basketball Hall of Fame's Bubbleville
Who: Florida (0-0) vs. Army (3-0)
When: 2:30 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850