Kan Li / Scout

The Florida Gators debut with Gator Madness

The Mike White era opened with the first official practice on Friday, but the Gators put on a show for fans later in the night.

Gator Madness returned to the Florida basketball program for the first time since 2006, a pep rally for the men’s and women’s programs heading into their season.

Former Florida softball player Jenn Brown and former Florida football player Titus O’Neil hosted the event, doing on-court interviews with Florida seniors and both head coaches. The highlight of the evening came with the three-point shooting contest and a dunk contest.

For the three-point shooting, the Gators returned some of the program’s legends. Teddy Dupay, Lee Humphrey and Jason Williams joined current players Dorian Finney-Smith and Brandone Francis-Ramirez for the contest, as each player had five basketballs on five racks.

Francis-Ramirez and Humphrey advanced to the final round, where the Florida redshirt freshman won 18-10. After sitting out last season because of academic issues, the Gators could have a weapon from long distance this season.

“It was a little exciting, to be honest with you,” Florida coach Mike White said with a grin of his guard’s shooting on Friday. “In front of a bunch of people, on our home rims that I hadn’t experienced yet, it was pretty exciting.

“He has been shooting the ball well. I didn’t expect him to beat the best shooter in the history of the NCAA Tournament. And I’m not sure if they did it another nine times that Brandon would beat him again, but we’ll take the ‘W’ tonight.”

Dorian Finney-Smith added, “That’s just a glimpse of what I see all the time. He’s a gym rat. I can’t wait to be on the court with him.”

The dunk contest opened with three contestants -- Chris Chiozza, Kevarrius Hayes and Devin Robinson. White made sure to point out after the event that the team went through a three-hour practice on Friday, so the players didn’t have their legs to complete most of the dunks.

Chiozza, at only 6-0, struggled to finish any of his dunks. Robinson had little creativity in the first round before trying to dunk a pass off the side of the backboard from Jason Williams on his second dunk. Neither Chiozza or Robinson was able to do much that got the fans into it.

Hayes, a freshman, did just that. His first dunk was the most impressive. Hayes dribbled up the baseline, jumped and put the ball behind his back before dunking it and receiving a score of 48 out of a possible 50 from the judges.

On his second dunk, he threw the ball off the backboard and caught it with his right hand before bringing his left hand over and dunking it.

“I’ve been told that I have a lot of energy I bring,” Hayes said, sporting a WWE championship belt given to him by O’Neil after the contest. “I hope to represent that in words and in action on the court.”

FIRST PRACTICE IN THE BOOKS

The first practice of the season was focused on teaching when the Gators hit the floor Friday afternoon. They’ll practice twice on Saturday to continue the learning curve between players and a new staff. The most important thing White wanted to see what competition between players, and that showed up throughout the practice.

“The intensity level,” White said of his key takeaway. “Guys really competed at a high level, communicated at a high level, which is a deficiency of this team right now. It was really good, productive practice.”

Finney-Smith pointed to help out the freshmen on Saturday, trying to get them accustomed to the college level. Hayes was one of three true freshmen to learn how different it is.

“It was an eye opener, especially for me as a new guy,” Hayes said. “Going for such a long time, you’ve got to get used to it. I’ve got some more work to do.” 


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