On the wall opposite of the well-lit, half-circle trophy case filled with memories of past teams in the foyer of the basketball facility, there’s a two-story mural of Billy Donovan’s face overseeing the program’s present. The mural isn’t going anywhere. Mike White didn’t want it to. Florida administration asked the program’s first-year coach what he wanted to do with it, but he saw it as a positive for Donovan’s face to be on the wall of the facility.
It’s a reminder of who built the program and what the expectation is. With only four years of previous head coach experience at Louisiana Tech, White loves the standard of the program he inherited.
“I point it out any time we have a recruit on campus,” White said. “Coach Donovan has been incredible. He's taken time on several occasions to reach out or return a call or text from me. I know one thing -- he wants Florida to be really successful. He's proud of what he's built. (He) obviously built something special here. Probably most importantly he wants these kids that he's recruited here to have success. He's been very, very helpful, and I'm very appreciative for it.”
Four years ago, White went through another transition. He left Ole Miss after spending seven years as an assistant coach and took over a sputtering Louisiana Tech program. White and his staff turned the program around, but that first year was a unique challenge.
Coaches have to learn their new personnel, pick up recruiting for their new program and start implementing their new schemes on both sides of the court while trying to build relationships with an entirely new team. The advantage for his time in Gainesville is that White has served as the head coach during a college practice and game, he has called a timeout and he has been through the ups and downs of what being the head coach requires.
Four years ago, that was a challenge. Now White has the experience he believes is necessary to take over the Florida program and not experience a drop off in success.
“There is a lot of trial and error,” White said. “We have thoughts about each guy, about the way we think we may be able to play, some of the strengths that we think we have and some of the things we think we may not be very good at this. In a month from now, some of those things may be reversed.
“There is going to be some trial and error. There is going to be some give and take with us learning from our guys and our guys learning from us. We have good players. We have a plan in place. We're about halfway there, I hope.”
White’s first challenge is to get the team to forget what happened last season. The Gators finished last season 16-17 and missed the NCAA Tournament with a team that struggled to score throughout the season. Instead of throwing it in the players’ faces throughout the offseason, White wants them to find a new way to be motivated.
It’s an optimistic approach, pushing the Florida players to believe in how good the team can be instead of dwelling on what happened last year.
“Let's not question how good we are,” White said. “We know we're better than this, and these are the areas that we need to fix that we can improve upon. That's more the approach that we've taken. Challenging our guys rather than questioning our abilities.”