Gators' White discusses upcoming schedule, Castleton's decision, possibility of hiring former Gators and more

Graham Hall
UF basketball writer
Florida forward Colin Castleton blocks the shot of Virginia Tech guard Tyrece Radford during the first-round game in the NCAA tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis on March 19.

The changes inside the Florida men’s basketball program weren’t the only topics discussed Thursday by coach Mike White. In his 41-minute Gator Gathering sponsored by the UF Alumni Association, White touched on a variety of matters aside from transfers, assistant coaches and Keyontae Johnson. Here are five additional highlights White dished on. 

Colin Castleton’s decision

It may have just been a coincidence, but White might have tipped Colin Castleton’s decision. The junior forward entered his name in the NBA draft but didn’t sign with an agent, paving the way for a return to Florida for his senior season. Midway into his opening address, White started with Castleton when discussing the players returning to Gainesville next season. 

More:In first comments since season's conclusion, Gators coach Mike White discusses transfers, coaching staff, Keyontae Johnson and more

More:Gators basketball lands defensive star, Charleston Southern transfer guard Phlandrous Fleming Jr.

“Returners for next year, we can talk roster a little bit. Colin Castleton, he’s going through the draft feedback process. I talk to him pretty regularly. (Wednesday) actually was the last time we talked,” White said of Castleton. “He’s having really good workouts, he feels like he’s getting better. Working on expanding his game a little bit to where he can face up and shoot the three and drive it a little bit from the perimeter. He’s a really skilled guy, and he’s a guy that went through a process of doing what we asked him to do a lot, of course. He’s a complying guy like all these guys, and you’re asked to play a role and he’s a guy who in the future his role will continue to expand, especially offensively, and he’s working on that right now.”

15 minutes later, White was asked how he envisioned the frontcourt looking next season if Castleton were to remain in the NBA draft rather than return to Gainesville. He said Florida would do its due diligence with the available roster spot, which in this day and age means scouring the transfer portal for talent. 

“If Colin decides not to return, I will immediately ask our support staff members to open up the portal and put it on the TV, because obviously we’ll be in the market there for another frontcourt guy,” White said. “There are guys right now that we’re recruiting that would be competing with Colin, and we don’t have a great sell, obviously, because you’ve got Colin Castleton here who of course will be a preseason All-League guy. You’ve got Jason Jitoboh here, who if he can get himself in great condition can be a very good player, and then of course Anthony Duruji and CJ Felder, and we’ve got some other frontcourt guys as well. So, how will it look? We’ll try and bring in another guy and we’ll see how the portal looks at that time. We’ll turn over every rock, of course, and if we’re not able to attract another big, we’ll have to — there will be some healthy pressure on Jason Jitoboh to take advantage of a great opportunity of course, and we’ll have to consider playing some small ball at times, which, you know there are a couple teams in our league that had a lot of success playing small ball, and we’ve done it in the past. Not ideal, but you become harder to defend as well, so we’ll look at some of these frontcourt guys potentially sliding over and playing some small-ball five.”

UF’s lone freshman signee

White made sure to mention incoming freshman Kowacie Reeves Jr., UF’s only addition in the class of 2021, when mentioning the Gainesville-bound Gators. UF’s sixth-year head coach mentioned the relationship he’s built with Reeves’ family while noting he’ll likely be taller than advertised when he arrives on campus in Summer B. 

“I was just texting with his father a little while earlier. A 6-foot-5 wing from Macon, Georgia — I would imagine he’s taller than that now, that’s just what most people have him listed as,” White said. “Can really score it. Great young man. An infectious personality. Kinda got an old soul for a 17, 18-year-old. He’s a big-time worker. He’s a really good player. Any time you talk to him or someone in his family or anyone in his circle, he’s either heading to the gym or leaving the gym or in the gym, or doing some type of sand drills or in the weight room. Anything to become a better player. I think right now he’s actually participating in that Iverson Classic, which he’ll do well in, and he’ll continue to have eyes opened. He’s a talented guy.”

Who’s the new Tre Mann?

Gainesville native Tre Mann is almost certain to be selected in the first round of the 2021 NBA draft in July – a massive ascension for someone who didn’t quite live up to expectations as a highly regarded freshman. Mann improved his scoring average from his freshman year by 10.7 points, the highest single-season increase by a Florida player in 25 years. Naturally, fans want to know who will take over for Mann when it comes to carrying UF’s scoring load next season. White, asked if any Gators next season had “similar talent” to Mann, possibly could have built hype and pointed to any of the four transfers UF signed, or he could have put “healthy pressure” on returning point guard Tyree Appleby, but White instead opted for a third option: praising Mann’s talent level and basketball ceiling. 

“We’re not replacing Tre, you know, it’s just not gonna happen. His ability, his big-shot ability — as unique of an ability I would put up against anyone else in the draft — to play at his own pace. The moment’s never too big for him. High-level confidence, especially the second half of the season. Really grew into and made himself into an elite guard in college basketball,” White said. “Maybe one or two of these guys steps up and can be that comparable offensive player to Tre, but they’ll be a little different. Tre’s got a unique game. I do think we can replace his production of course by committee. Some of these guys I mentioned earlier, they’re all going to have an equal opportunity to come in here and impact, and nothing will be handed to them. They’ll earn what they get in terms of minutes and shots and their role. I think we have a number of backcourt guys that can produce this year, and again it will be the oldest backcourt that we’ve had. No one has a really similar game to Tre. I would say Myreon Jones probably has the most similar game to Tre, but still they’re a little bit different, and I’m anxious, you know. I’m anxious for our returning guards, our young guards, to get back to where we can work with them and they can continue to develop. But Myreon Jones, Brandon McKissic, these older guards, Phlan Fleming, I mean they’ll all do some things offensively and defensively that will make us better for sure.”

Florida's basketball schedule

There may not be an official 2021-22 schedule just yet, but info is beginning to trickle out. The Sun reported several weeks ago the Gators are nailing down a non-conference game with Murray State this season, though the date’s still unknown. And after UF’s trip to Norman, Oklahoma, was canceled last season, the home-and-home series will begin this season with the Sooners. White led his address off by giving a few details on Florida’s current scheduling plans. 

“I know scheduling is always a topic that’s asked about, so I guess I’ll just start with that. We’ll have two games this coming season in Fort Myers over break. Ohio State, California, Seton Hall, I guess are potential opponents. We’ll have UConn on the road,” White said. “We’ll resume the Orange Bowl Classic down in Sunrise, and we’ll have some mid-major opponents here at home. Looking forward to another high-level schedule.”

Former Gators on the coaching staff? 

There hasn’t been much information available on Florida’s assistant coaching search when it comes to hiring replacements for Jordan Mincy and Darris Nichols, with White saying Thursday he’s in no rush as he pores over a lengthy list of candidates in search of an ideal pairing — which may become a trio of hires if Al Pinkins ends up in Illinois reunited with former Gators forward Omar Payne. 

In a time where fans’ familiarity and affinity with personnel seems to be waning in the transfer portal era, White was asked if any former UF players were in the mix to return to the program, and he didn’t rule out the possibility whatsoever. 

“There’s a huge list of really good candidates, and there certainly are a lot of former Gators that are coaches. Former Gator coaches, former Gator players, former Gator managers that are all successful, and many are really great people, and we’re sifting through it. I’m sifting through it all daily, and obviously with guys that have Florida connections — the state of Florida and the University of Florida connections — we certainly look at those guys carefully. But it’s about the right total package of course, and it’s also about the complement to your team, to your system, to your other coaches, to the support staff. There’s a ton of factors that go into this thing. I think hiring coaches is perhaps the most important thing you can do as a head coach, probably in front of the players that you sign.”