Cam Newbauer feels the love, but will the UF women's basketball team bring the wins?
Cameron Newbauer thought he knew what he was getting into. But he didn't. And that he didn't know turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to him.
The Florida women's basketball coach took the job to replace Amanda Butler three years ago and only one big and juicy perception was waiting for him.
You know? How Florida is good in everything ... except women's basketball? On a campus used to celebrating excellence, women's basketball was considered the black eye.
"Before we got here," he said, "I knew where we were. So I figured we'd be treated like it."
After all, the history of Florida women's basketball is not like the other sports at the school. This is a place where you expect confetti rain and student-athletes hoisting trophies with sweaty hands.
Florida was relevant under Carol Ross from 1990-2002, but she got out of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament only once. Her successor, an NCAA title winning coach in Carolyn Peck, won one NCAA game in five seasons. Butler had four straight 20-win seasons, but won only three NCAA games in 10 years.
And through it all, not one SEC championship at a school with so many it has to spread them out all over campus.
So you can understand Newbauer's trepidation after he left an ultra-successful stint (51 wins and two NCAA tournaments his last two seasons at Belmont).
Instead, it was like he was embraced into a warm womb.
"All these coaches and the community have been incredible," he said. "Because they know what this can be."
Whether it can get to what almost feels unattainable considering history remains to be seen. Newbauer has picked up a pair of five-star recruits the last two years and seems to have the recruiting going in the right direction.
But it's a slow process. In three seasons, Newbauer has managed only one .500 season. If it's brick by brick, those bricks can be stubborn.
"What has helped us so much is what the community is and what Florida is," Newbauer said. "When I had (sophomore) Lavender Briggs in for her recruiting visit, I took her by the football offices. Dan (Mullen) came out of his office to talk to her. So did other coaches. A couple of players.
"They wanted to make it clear how much they wanted to see her come here. That's a microcosm of what happens around here. One day (UF Olympian) Grant Holloway comes by the gym to play dodge ball with the team."
Of course, the rub for Florida women's basketball is that the sports landscape around Gainesville is thick with ranked programs. How a family spends its disposable income is usually dependent on the success of each sport.
The core fans will show up no matter what. What you have to do is attract casual fans and that can be tough when you aren't winning games. Mullen used this argument with football: show up to help us win instead of showing up because we win.
But that's easier said than done.
"We gotta win," Newbauer said. "That's what matters. But the way people have been to us. We just got the first ever endowed scholarship for women's basketball. We're doing here what we set out to do.
"No matter the results, I'm going to stand by the work we've done."
This year, of course, Newbauer has his best team in uncertain times. His players have stuck together in a pseudo-bubble, waiting for a schedule and eager to just do something different.
"People who have reached out to me have given me confidence," Newbauer said. "Our kids have been so selfless. How we have been in the community, how we reach out to children in the hospital, to needy and homeless people.
"It's going to translate into success on the court."
If you thought the SEC was a difficult conference for football, you may be aware of how much tougher it is in women's basketball, where 28 of the 38 Final Fours in history have included an SEC team.
Of course, Cam Newbauer knew what he was getting into. But then he found out what he was really getting into in Gainesville.
This article appeared in the winter issue of Gainesville Magazine.