Florida Gators basketball team tips off regular season

Graham Hall
UF basketball writer
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Florida coach Mike White walks into the player huddle during a timeout in the exhibition game against Embry-Riddle at Exactech Arena last week.

Having secured a 23-point win over Embry-Riddle University in the team’s preseason exhibition last week, the Florida men’s basketball team returns to Exactech Arena and Billy Donovan Court for the season-opener against Elon University.

Tip-off is set for 8 p.m. today, and the transfer-heavy Gators have yet to set their starting line-up. In the exhibition, UF started five transfers — guards Myreon Jones, Brandon McKissic and Phlandrous Fleming Jr., along with Anthony Duruji and Colin Castleton in the frontcourt. 

“If I had to guess, at least three of the same guys (will start against Elon),” said UF coach Mike White. “Probably four of the same guys, and maybe five.”

Though for a program under White’s leadership, that’s an improvement — and a possible sign the team has a higher ceiling than many believe, made possible by the addition of the four experienced arrivals and highly touted freshman signee Kowacie Reeves. 

As part of his ongoing evaluation process as a head coach, White has tweaked his pre-game routine when it comes to deciding which five players will start the game. Specifically, he expects to give the starters notice hours in advance rather than just prior to taking the floor for the opening tip. 

“With a new staff, you take new ideas and you have tons of conversation throughout the summer and the fall, and we have changed it,” White said. “In the past, I would decide who’s starting a lot of times, 90 percent of the time, right before the game. Within an hour before the game, we would meet as a staff when our guys were in the locker room for the last time. 

“What we’ve started doing with this group is letting them know starting line-ups during shootaround, so it’ll be official tomorrow afternoon, unless we have any drama before shootaround and tip, which of course we hope we don’t.”

They’ve yet to play a meaningful game, but that’s the general consensus White has received from this team as he begins his seventh season at the helm at Florida: Having added four players with significant playing time to a veteran frontcourt has decreased the likelihood Florida will experience immaturity issues that could hinder or derail the team’s intentions of progressing with the season. 

“Sometimes (the starting line-up) would change based on you’re supposed to get to the gym at this time, and a guy walks in 30 seconds late, ‘well, he’s not starting the game’,” White said, “and some of those things don’t really hit. With this group, I don’t anticipate many immaturities. I’m optimistic, of course.” 

He may not be privy to the youth-related issues a head coach experiences, but Castleton agreed with the sentiment, saying the transfers bring consistent energy in practice, a credit to their experience. 

“From (White’s) perspective, he probably knows more about it with personal meetings, or whatever the case may be, but having older guys, it’s just a lot less stuff to worry about as a coach,” Castleton said. “They’re gonna bring what they’re gonna bring every day, and we’re gonna just try to win. That’s all we want: just winning basketball games, and that’s our focus.”

The attitude has been all “we” and no “me”, and that maturity has influenced the team’s underclassmen, too. Though they’ve yet to play a game that counts in the win column, White’s optimism regarding how it will all come together, beginning against Elon University, is palpable.

“We’ve got such experience and maturity. You can have freshmen who are mature, you can have redshirt seniors who are mature. You can have fifth-year seniors that have issues being unselfish and selling out to winning. I think, regardless of how old we are, to this point we’ve shown we’re willing to work consistently and be on the same page,” White said. “Again, that’s through our scrimmage and exhibition game. We haven’t accomplished one win yet together, but practices have been pretty good.” 

Florida’s projected starters

Anthony Duruji F 6-7   220    R-Sr    6.1 ppg     4.4 rpg

Colin Castleton F 6-11 231    Sr         12.4 ppg   6.4 rpg

Phlandrous Fleming Jr. G 6-5  205    Gr         20.1 ppg   7.4 rpg

Brandon McKissic G  6-3  185    Gr 17.2 ppg  3.7 rpg

Myreon Jones G 6-3   175   Sr 15.3 ppg  2.7 rpg

Notes: As he enters his seventh season at Florida, Mike White’s 123-75 record with the Gators includes four consecutive invitations to the NCAA Tournament. ... The Gators are one of six teams nationally with a win in each of the past four tournaments and the only Southeastern Conference team to reach every NCAA Tournament since 2017. After playing without any seniors on the roster last season, the Gators have six senior or graduate players on their active roster to start the season in addition to forward Keyontae Johnson, who remains in a supporting role for the time being while he awaits medical clearance.

Today

Who: Elon vs. Florida

When; 8 p.m.

Where: O'Connell Center

Online: SEC Network+

Radio: AM-850, 98.1-FM

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